Part of the reason any reasonable person should be skeptical of the NSA’s claim that most Americans are safe from its prying eyes is the fact that the only check is that they needed “51% confidence” the person they were spying on was a foreign national. And unsurprisingly, that power has been abused.
Senator Chuck Grassley essentially asked the NSA to fork over any instances of “willful abuse”, and the NSA voluntarily coughed up the twelve cases that have come up since 2003. And unfortunately, it’s ugly: Out of the twelve incidents, five involved invading the privacy of American citizens who had nothing to do with the mission.
Worse, almost all of the incidents essentially involve some form of stalking. One guy in particular stands out, claiming he was only looking at his ex-girlfriend’s emails and phone calls to “test” the system. Another analyst tried to pretend she was looking up her boyfriend’s friends because she didn’t want to get involved with “shady characters.” And one incident had an analyst doing this to his girlfriends for five years.
All of this violates the human rights and privacy of those involved, and it doesn’t appear that anybody involved in these incidents spent a day in jail for that; most of these people were allowed to resign before the Department of Justice could take disciplinary action. Worse, a lot of this is borderline stalking behavior, or outright stalking, and that was prosecuted either.
Realistically, this is also only what the NSA has caught. Abuse could be endemic, or really could be limited to a few bad eggs. But since the NSA has no accountability to, you know, the people who bought them all these fancy toys, we’re probably never going to know.