According to two major scoops by the Washington Post, the NSA's own audit found thousands of instances in which the agency broke existing privacy laws, while the man in charge of the secretive FISC court in charge of policing American spying programs admits that their ability to actually do so is limited. The stories address the legality of the surveillance and data collection programs we're learning more and more about thanks to the leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was also the source for the internal audit cited in their report. "Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States," the Post's Barton Gellman writes.
That's going to make the following quote from President Obama, from his Friday news conference, read kind of awkwardly (emphasis ours):
And if you look at the reports -- even the disclosures that Mr. Snowden has put forward -- all the stories that have been written, what you’re not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs and listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s emails. 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.
The audit, dated in May 2012 and spanning the period of about one year, found 2,776 cases of "unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications," most of which were unintentional. The audit only includes incidences from the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, and other facilities around Washington.