The NSA has No Clue How Many Americans it Spies On, Expresses Desire to Help FBI
Before Congress reauthorizes laws allowing the National Security Agency to monitor electronic communications of hundreds of millions of people in search of foreign threats, it wants answers.
For one, how many Americans’ data has been swept up in this vast surveillance program?
James Clapper, National Intelligence Director, said they do not know, but are looking at several ways to glean this data. The problem is, in order to analyze the data and find out how many Americans it’s spying on, the NSA would likely subject Americans to further privacy invasions.
“Even a rough estimate of the number of U.S. persons impacted by these programs will help us to evaluate” how pervasive the collection of Americans’ data is, 14 members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote to Clapper last week.
For four years, US senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have been pressing the NSA for an estimate of how many Americans’ emails and phone calls are being collected.
Although the NSA insists its programs are strictly used to target foreigners, it announced its desire to begin sharing raw communication data with FBI agents and other domestic law enforcement officials.
“Our employees are trained to not look for US persons,” Rebecca Richards, NSA privacy and civil liberties officer told The Hill in March. “We’re not interested in those US persons. We’re trying to look away from those.”
A secret 2015 court ruling was unsealed this week, revealing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts’ decision to formally approve warrantless spying for general criminal investigations in the US. These revelations have prompted dozens of advocacy groups to write intelligence officials that they are (again) circumventing constitutional protections and “pose new threats to the privacy and civil liberties of ordinary Americans,” reports Defense One.
Political support for surveillance of this nature is fading. Privacy advocates experienced a major victory last summer when Congress passed the USA Freedom Act. An overwhelming bipartisan vote thwarted the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata, like numbers, call time and duration for US citizens.
As for this current battle, privacy advocates claim the benefits of a one-time invasion of privacy outweigh the risks of not knowing how many Americans are subject to surveillance.
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