The U.S. National Security Agency has released a 2011 court opinion that ruled it unlawfully gathered as many 56,000 emails and other electronic communications of Americans each year between 2008 and 2011.
The opinion was released Wednesday as part of the Obama administration's efforts to provide transparency over the agency's surveillance efforts, in response to recent revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
U.S. intelligence officials told reporters the NSA discovered in 2011 that it had inadvertently collected communications between U.S. citizens under a program aimed at monitoring foreign communications. The agency revealed its discovery to a secret court that oversees the NSA's activities, which ordered the agency to revise the program to keep domestic communications from being mixed in with overseas communications.
But in an 85-page ruling issued in October 2011, Judge James Bates concluded that the government had engaged in a pattern of misleading statements when it sought authorization to conduct the program. Judge Bates also suggested the NSA may have violated the U.S. constitution's prohibition against against "unreasonable searches and seizures"
The NSA destroyed the information after determining it was mistakenly collected.
Intelligence officials told reporters they declassified the documents to show the NSA was not willingly eavesdropping on Americans' private communications.
U.S. lawmakers are demanding more oversight of the agency and are preparing legislation that would curb U.S. surveillance operations.