Oh, Sure, Now Congress Is Serious About Asking NSA About Surveillance On Americans
from the about-freaking-time,-goodlatte dept
For many, many years, Senator Ron Wyden has been directly asking the US intelligence community a fairly straightforward question (in his role as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee): just how many Americans are having their communications swept up in surveillance activities supposedly being conducted on foreigners under the FISA Amendments Act (FISA being Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). Wyden started asking way back in 2011 and got no answers. His continued questioning in 2013 resulted in Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lying to Congress in a public hearing, which Ed Snowden later claimed was a big part of the inspiration to make him leak documents to the press.
Just last month, we noted that Wyden had renewed his request for an accurate depiction of how many Americans have had their communications swept up, this time asked to new Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. Unfortunately, for all these years, it’s basically felt like Senator Wyden tilting at a seeming windmill, with many others in Congress basically rolling their eyes every time the issue is raised. I’ve never understood why people in Congress think that these kinds of things can be ignored. There have been a few attempts by others — notably on the House Judiciary Committee — to ask similar questions. Almost exactly a year ago, there was a letter from many members of the HJC, and there was a followup in December. But, notably, while there were a number of members from both parties on that letter, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, did not sign the letter, meaning that it was unlikely to be taken as seriously.
Suddenly, though, it seems that the ins-and-outs of Section 702, and how the “incidental” information it collects on Americans is used has taken on a much wider interest, following President Trump’s misleading suggestion that President Obama tapped his phone lines, and some Trump supporters trying to twist typical 702 surveillance to justify those remarks. Either way, if that leads people to actually look at 702, that may be a good result out of a stupid situation. And, thus, we get to this surprising moment, in which Goodlatte has actually sent a similar letter to Coats (along with ranking member John Conyers) asking about the impact of 702 surveillance on Americans. And since (for reasons that are beyond me) Reuters refuses to link to the actual source materials, you can read the full letter here or embedded below.
The letter demands an answer by April 24th. And, yes, it’s notable that Goodlatte has signed on, because Section 702 is up for reauthorization at the end of the year, and if Goodlatte is not on board with reauthorization, then the NSA is going to have some difficulty in getting it through.
You have described reauthorization of Section 702 as your “top legislative priority.” Although Congress designed this authority to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States, it is clear that Section 702 surveillance programs can and do collect information about U.S. persons, on subjects unrelated to counterterrorism. It is imperative that we understand the size of this impact on U.S. persons as our Committee proceeds with the debate on reauthorization.
The letter then even points to Coats’ response to Wyden during Coats’ confirmation hearing that he was “going to do everything I can to work with Admiral Rogers in NSA to get you that number.” Of course, back in December, it was said that the intelligence community might finally deliver that number… in January. And it’s now April. Still, with Goodlatte finally taking an interest in this, it’s a sign that the NSA can’t just coast by and continue to completely ignore this.