Although there's been some debate on the legality of the mounds of data collected by NSA analysts during the PRISM program, House Intelligence Committee officials have confirmed that they're totally free to rifle through your data without a court order. As long as they think they might have a reason to be suspicious—any reason will do!—they're free to go nuts. So if it's not the court, what is backing these thousands of queries to glean data from American citizens? Essentially, "I've got a good feeling about this one, you guys."
"Is the FISA court a rubber stamp?" NSA chief says no, but in the last two years, they've approved ~4,000 orders, with zero rejections.— EFF Live Tweets (@EFFLive) June 18, 2013
And how did what would effectively amount to 5 queries a day manage to get approved so quickly and with so little deliberation? Well, it's probably because no one was reading them:
Confirmed, no court review of individual queries. Rest of the checks are inside the DOJ — this is not oversight!— EFF Live Tweets (@EFFLive) June 18, 2013
This news is certainly unsettling in terms of such an unrestricted flow of power, but it's also important to keep in mind that (supposedly) these data queries were not entirely in vain. FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce told Congress that these same purported invasions of privacy have stopped at least one subway attack in New York. But that wasn't an isolated incident. According to Deputy Director Joyce, NSA surveillance programs were also able to link an American citizen living in Chicago to the terror attacks on Indian hotels in 2008 and to plots to bomb the Danish newspaper that caused controversy by printing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
And what about the man of the hour, a one Edward Snowden? Well, upon being asked by Congressman Rooney what we can expect of the NSA whistleblower, Deputy Director Joyce responded with one single, loaded, and effectively meaningless word: "Justice."
So there you have it, America. No government ambiguity here.
You can watch the hearing live for yourself here. [Update: The hearing has now ended.]