The abuse of NSA’s database

Last Thursday, at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, debate began on whether curbs should be placed on the National Security Agency’s spy programs – particularly those that allow access to the phone records of U.S. citizens.

As we wrote shortly after Edward Snowden revealed the program to the world, where there is the potential for abuse, abuse will occur. We noted that politically ambitious NSA staffers could use the massive databases to find out when, where and who opponents were talking to.

On Friday, the Daily Mail of London revealed there was another way the databases could be abused – at least 12 times in the last decade. NSA employees used surveillance systems to check up on their own love interests.

The Daily Mail said in some cases the employees were checking on former lovers. In one case, a new employee checked up on his girlfriend on his first day at work at NSA. When he was caught, he claimed he had done it “to practice.”

The Mail said all these cases were detailed and documented in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley.

While these cases involving jealous lovers may be laughable, they underscore the potential for abuse when so much personal information is being stored about American citizens. If these employees were able to track love interests, others can (and probably did) track individuals for more nefarious reasons like political gain – or even, possibly, blackmail.

The Wall Street Journal said that Thursday’s hearing featured a proposal by Sens. Diane Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss to codify limits NSA has imposed on itself on collecting data on U.S. citizens. Sens. Ron Wyden and Rand Paul would go further – they want to end the phone-record program and require warrants for NSA to search its databases for information on American citizens.

Wyden and Rand also want more public reporting on surveillance programs.

We worry that tales like the tracking of lost lovers prove our fears about abuse are true. The Senate needs to act to curb NSA’s info gathering on American citizens.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.