Senators: Illegal NSA spying still secret

Two Democratic senators are warning that the administration has still not revealed the full scope of the National Security Agency's privacy violations.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who both have access to classified information as members of the Intelligence Committee, warned that "some significant information — particularly about violations pertaining to the bulk email records collection program — remains classified."

The senators made the statement after the Obama administration released about 1,800 pages of court documents showing that NSA analysts had improperly accessed phone call data thousands of times between 2006 and 2009.

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Leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed earlier this year that the NSA collects data on virtually all U.S. phone calls. Analysts are only allowed to search the vast phone database if they have a "reasonable articulable suspicion" that a phone number is connected to terrorism.

But the NSA acknowledged in early 2009 that analysts had been routinely comparing thousands of numbers without any suspicion that they were connected to terrorists.

As a result of the violations, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court pulled the NSA's authority to search the phone database on its own, requiring that the agency receive court approval on a case-by-case basis except for imminent threats to human life.  

After the NSA made a series of changes to its training procedures and internal oversight, the court authorized the agency to resume searching the database on its own in September 2009.  

But Wyden and Udall argued that the court should always maintain strict oversight of each NSA phone search.

"In our judgment, the fact that the FISA Court was able to handle these requests on an individual basis is further evidence that intelligence agencies can get all of the information that they genuinely need without engaging in the dragnet surveillance of huge numbers of law-abiding Americans," the senators said. 

"These documents provide further evidence that bulk collection is not only a significant threat to the constitutional liberties of Americans, but that it is a needless one."

When the administration first acknowledged NSA privacy violations last month, Wyden and Udall said the admission was only the "tip of a larger iceberg."

"With the documents declassified and released this afternoon by the Director of National Intelligence the public now has new information about the size and shape of that iceberg," they said on Tuesday.