Depending on which elected official you asked this week or last, the revelation that the NSA regularly collects U.S. phone records, and can easily access some private content like emails and chat transcripts from Internet companies, was either no big deal, an enormous shock to the conscience, or an "I told you so" moment.
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For most members who don't serve on one of the secretive intelligence committees and aren't among the four highest ranking officials in Congress, the scope if not the existence of the programs came as a surprise. Those members weren't prohibited from receiving official briefings about classified collections programs. But even if they took unusual interest in the issue, they had to seek out information, without easy access to the subject-area knowledge required to decipher what they'd learned, or the authority to share it with their staffs or other elected officials. The administration didn't volunteer information, and these members' generally don't have aides with top-secret security clearances, let alone expertise in signals intelligence.
But even though intelligence committee members, along with the top four bipartisan legislative leaders, had much more detailed knowledge about all intelligence matters than most members, they too have differing accounts about the scope of these programs, the accuracy of the stories written about them, and even their own ability to conduct oversight of the NSA and the country's most secret surveillance activities.