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NSA broke privacy rules. Are latest revelations big, or same-old?

The number of NSA privacy violations tied to surveillance programs – 2,776 in one year – seems big, but there's no context for judging. The revelations, however, appear to contradict Obama's assurances that the NSA acts with care and propriety.

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“You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” said an NSA official authorized by the White House to speak to the Post. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.”

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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On the other hand, Gellman’s story in the Post directly contradicts President Obama’s assertion that the NSA does not overstep its legal bounds.

In remarks on the Snowden revelations at the beginning of a press conference last Friday, Mr. Obama said that despite the uproar in the press “what you’re not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs and listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s e-mails.”

Now you are reading about just such abuses, write Washington Post Wonkblog writers Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas.

“To be fair to Obama, what the report details isn’t systematic abuse so much as repeated mistakes. But the report is a reminder that we don’t know what we don’t know,” write the Wonkblog authors.

The latest revelations also undercut the White House and intelligence community assertions that extensive oversight from the legislative and judicial branches keeps the NSA honest, according to other critics.

For instance, the Post story notes that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California had not read the internal NSA audit until the Post itself provided it.

“This is what the vaunted Congressional oversight of NSA spying looks like,” wrote national security analyst Marcy Wheeler on her "Empty Wheels" blog.

In sum, Snowden-provided details now make clear that a special approach to NSA oversight is necessary, writes the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, who has long charged that the Obama administration has overstepped its bounds with surveillance and drone warfare policies.

“The time is ripe for a new Church Committee, the surveillance oversight effort named for Senator Frank Church, who oversaw a mid-1970s investigation into decades of jaw-dropping abuses by US intelligence agencies,” writes Mr. Friedersdorf.

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