In his post-NSA revelations press conference recently, President Obama spoke often of “abuse.” Unfortunately,it was always a hypothetical (emphasis added):
“make sure they have strong oversight by all three branches of government and clear safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of the American people”
“I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse.”
“how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used”
“And we’ve tried to set up a system that is as failsafe as so far at least we’ve been able to think of to make sure that these programs are not abused.”
And even one time he was explicit that there wasn’t abuse.
“What you’re hearing about is the prospect that these could be abused. Now, part of the reason they’re not abused is because these checks are in place, and those abuses would be against the law and would be against the orders of the FISC.”
Unfortunately, from the news last week and today, we’ve learned that there has already been abuse, and lots of it. Last week we learned that a May 2012 internal NSA audit found almost 3,000 cases of improperly accessed domestic collections, each of those collections including up to thousands of individual communications. Yesterday, we learned that in 2011 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ruled against an NSA program that had already collected up to 56,000 domestic communications unrelated to terrorism investigations in the previous three years.
Administration officials and other NSA apologists are already out saying that these privacy violations were technical errors, not intentional abuses, covered on a tiny fraction of total communications at the time, and that in the second case the FISC performed its proper oversight role and shut down the program. These arguments are both beside the point. We have been assured that there have been no abuses, no domestic spying, no 4th Amendment violations. This is obviously and now conclusively false.
Either the White House knew about the NSA audit and FISC ruling and lied, or they weren’t told in order to maintain plausible deniability. I’m not sure which is worse.