NSA admits to illegal surveillance to obtain probable cause to justify illegal surveillance
This is exactly like the cops breaking into your house, rummaging through everything you own and looking through your computer in search of some reason to break into your house.
This is exactly what the 4th Amendment was designed to protect against.
The fact that only roughly 11 percent of the database queries made by the NSA during this period conformed with legal requirements is particularly remarkable given the relative weakness of the standard. The standard for obtaining a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment is "probable cause." A "reasonable suspicion" standard—similar language governs the constitutionality of "stop and frisk" searches—places substantially less of a burden on the state when it seeks to justify a search. So, as with New York's City's stop-and-frisk policy, it is particularly damning that for three years, the overwhelming majority of the NSA's database queries could not even meet that standard.
The NSA's response, as reported by Wired, is essentially that it was all just too complicated so they shouldn't be held responsible:
“Incredibly, intelligence officials said today that no one at the NSA fully understood how its own surveillance system worked at the time so they could not adequately explain it to the court,” says EFF activist Trevor Timm. “This is a breathtaking admission — the NSA’s surveillance apparatus, for years, was so complex and compartmentalized that no single person could comprehend it.”
Intelligence Director James Clapper, in a blog post today, blamed the unlawful spying in part on “the complexity of the technology employed in connection with the bulk telephony metadata collection program,” and said it was not done deliberately.