WASHINGTON: Some National Security Agency employees have illegally eavesdropped on the phone calls of their boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses over the past decade, the US spy service admitted.

Confirming media reports that agency workers used surveillance technology in their private life — a practice jokingly known as “loveint” — the NSA’s inspector general, General George Ellard, released a letter to a US senator disclosing details of the romantic snooping.

The admission represented yet another setback for the agency as it struggles to defend its surveillance activities in the wake of revelations from intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who lifted the lid on the NSA’s vast digital dragnet.

Writing to Senator Charles Grassley, Ellard said that since 2003 there were 12 “substantiated instances of intentional misuse of the signals intelligence (SIGINT) authorities.” These are procedures that allow the agency to search telephone records and tap communications of suspects abroad. The NSA’s inspector general office had two open investigations into the misue of these powers and is reviewing an allegation for another possible probe, Ellard wrote in the letter dated Sept 11.

In many of the cases described in the letter, the NSA employee who had acted improperly resigned before any disciplinary action was taken and government authorities did not prosecute them.—AFP

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