Lawmakers Demand Number Of American Communications Collected By Government

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According to lawmakers, we will soon know how many Americans electronic communications have been intercepted by U.S. online surveillance programs that were intended for foreigners.

The request for the information, made by members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, is expected to be made public as early as next month, according to the letter. 

The letter signed by 11 lawmakers, all members of the House Judiciary Committee, said, “The timely production of this information is incredibly important to informed debate on Section 702 in the next Congress— and, without it, even those of us inclined to support reauthorization would have reason for concern.”

The request, sent to Intelligence Director James Clapper, had previously said his office and the National Security Agency (NSA) had already briefed congress about how the intelligence community intends to comply with the disclosure request.

The disclosure of this information would come at an opportune time, as Congress is expected to begin discussions on whether to reauthorize or reform the surveillance program. The program, known as Section 702, is a provision that was added to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008.

Section 702 enables two internet surveillance programs called Prism and Upstream to operate. These programs were revealed in the leaks made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden more than three years ago.

james-clapper

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper Photo Credit: (Forbes)

The lawmakers deemed the letter an effort to “memorialize our understanding” of the intelligence community. By providing the actual number of intercepted communications would enable necessary changes to improve the program.

The U.S. government has maintained the position that providing the actual number of Americans that were affected by Section 702 surveillance might be technically impossible. They also argue that it would require privacy intrusions exceeding those raised by the actual surveillance programs.

In April, Clapper said that providing an estimate of American intercepted communications may be possible, while defending the law as “a prolific producer of critical intelligence.”

Some skeptics of the program have said that the collection of the online data is a “back-door surveillance of Americans without a warrant,” said Reuters.

Section 702 is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2017 unless congress intervenes.

Clapper’s office confirmed the letter had been received but declined further comment.

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