2014 Federal Spending Bill Contains Demands For Transparency On NSA Surveillance Programs
from the in-search-of-actual-oversight dept
Hidden in the 1,500+ pages of the $1.1 trillion federal funding bill is a stipulation aimed at giving the NSA's much-heralded oversight some actual oversight. The wording specifically targets the NSA's bulk collection programs, and if passed along with the rest of the bill (which is expected to pass shortly), will be the first Congressional action taken against the agency. (There are many, many more in the pipeline.)
Here's how the accompanying "explanatory statement" breaks it down:
The Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) is directed to provide the following to the congressional intelligence committees, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and the House Committee on the Judiciary, not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act:The agency has been extremely resistant to the notion of quantifying its bulk collection efforts. The "incidental" collection of American data and communications has been discussed at length, but so far, the agency has refused to offer even an estimate at how much "incidental collection" actually occurs. While it has noted how many RAS-approved numbers it actually searches in its Section 215 database, it has not specified how many of those intersect with wholly domestic communications.
1) A report, unclassified to the greatest extent possible, which sets forth for the last five years, on an annual basis, the number of records acquired by the NSA as part of the bulk telephone metadata program authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, pursuant to section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and the number of such records that have been reviewed by NSA personnel in response to a query of such records. Additionally, this report shall provide, to the greatest extent possible, an estimate of the number of records of United States citizens that have been acquired by NSA as part of the bulk telephone metadata program and the number of such records that have been reviewed by NSA personnel in response to a query.
2) A report, unclassified to the greatest extent possible and with a classified annex if necessary, describing all NSA bulk collection activities, including when such activities began, the cost of such activities, the types of records that have been collected in the past, the types of records that are currently being collected, and any plans for future bulk collection.
3) A report, unclassified to the greatest extent possible and with a classified annex if necessary, listing terrorist activities that were disrupted, in whole or in part, with the aid of information obtained through NSA's telephone metadata program and whether this information could have been promptly obtained by other means.
This stipulation goes further than the 215 program, which would add to the body of knowledge needed for Congressional overseers to provide something closer to actual oversight. Much of what's being collected under other authorities (Section 702, Executive Order 12333) remains somewhat of a mystery. Obviously, the NSA would like it to remain this way, hence its oft-used tactic of purposefully reframing questions about these collections as questions about Section 215.
It's a small push but it does ask for a level of transparency and accountability the NSA hasn't experienced to date. The usual "national security" dodge has lost a lot of its effectiveness over the past several months as it's been repeatedly shown that vast, untargeted metadata collections are next to useless when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks. The other claims that exposing the inner workings will allow the nation's enemies to route around surveillance are equally weak considering the vast amount of documents Ed Snowden has released to journalists. Chances are, the inner workings will be exposed sooner or later. It would be better to get out ahead of the leaks and allow the Congressional oversight to do its job for a change.
The leaks have exposed the NSA's true motivations. It doesn't fear exposure nearly as much as it fears losing any of its surveillance programs, no matter how ineffective they are and how much they add to the problem of too much data.