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An internal audit has discovered that the FBI overstepped the mark in intercepting communication records at least 1,000 times since 2002.

The figures - based on an analysis of 10 per cent of the bureau's national security investigations over the last five years - are far higher than estimates of 22 wiretap "mistakes" in a Justice Department study released as recently as March.

The latest study blames the majority of violations of lawful interception rules or FBI rules on instances where telephone firms or ISPs gave agents the phone call records of the wrong people, or more information than was requested. Feds kept the information anyway.

More seriously, 24 of the freshly-unearthed violations involve agents requesting and obtaining information without lawful authority. Only two examples of such serious violation were reported in the Justice Department's March report (which covered a much smaller sample), the Washington Post reports.

FBI officials said the audit failed to reveal any deliberate attempts to violate surveillance laws. The issues identified in the report are blamed on inadequate knowledge on the part of many agents over the complex rules involved in serving so-called National Security Letters, or NSLs - agency demands for information from telecoms firms on terror suspects or others suspected of serious crimes. ®

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