One of the key points that officials have been making in defense of the NSA surveillance is this idea that even if they're collecting all this data on your communications, they can't actually do anything with it, because they keep it safely locked up in a lockbox, and only check it if they have some bit of data they want to find out about later. That was the crux of the claims made by former NSA/CIA boss Michael Hayden who seemed to think that "data mining" and "asking the database questions" were two different things.
However, as William Saletan is pointing out at Slate, the lockbox is a lie. There is no lockbox. He quotes officials including NSA boss Keith Alexander and Congress's number one NSA apologist, Rep. Mike Rogers, both suggesting strongly that even if the NSA is collecting all your data, it's safe because it can't be explored without a "very specific court-ordered approval process."
Except... what they conveniently left out, is that the court doesn't review any of this. It appears that it probably set some very basic rules up front when it gave the okay on collecting the data, which no one else gets to know about, and no one carefully checks up on the NSA later to see if they really follow any of those rules. What the claims most certainly do not mean, is that the NSA needs to get a court order to search the database. Senator Dianne Feinstein admitted as much directly:
Click headline to read more--