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.
Yet Another NSA Violation
The latest NSA abuses involve the database of phone calls made by Americans compiled by the NSA. Phone companies have been ordered to turn over "metadata" about the calls made by their customers. The NSA keeps five years of this metadata on file at any given time. When the agency makes queries into the database, however, it is required by the FISA court to have a "reasonable articulable suspicion" that the call involves communication with a terrorist suspect or some other connection with terrorism. The opinion released this week showed that "of the 17,835 phone numbers checked against phone records," in a three-year period beginning in 2006, "only 1,935 were based on that reasonable-suspicion standard."
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.