Senators question US surveillance transparency report

The report doesn't provide enough detail about the NSA's collection of US communications, two lawmakers say

A recent report from the U.S. intelligence director that provides the number of surveillance targets in 2013 is not specific enough to provide the transparency the nation's residents need, two senators said Monday.

The transparency report, issued Thursday by the U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence, doesn't reveal the specific number of people affected by National Security Surveillance Programs, and it doesn't disclose how many U.S. residents had their data collected when the NSA targeted foreign terrorism suspects, said Senators Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, and Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican.

While the report tells how many foreign "targets" the NSA focused on during 2013, the word, "targets" can mean "an individual person, a group, or an organization composed of multiple individuals or a foreign power that possesses or is likely to communicate foreign intelligence information," the ODNI said in its report.

The U.S. National Security Agency, under its surveillance program focused on foreign terrorism suspects, is able to query U.S. communications collected inadvertently. The NSA is able to query that U.S. data in the so-called "backdoor search loophole" in a law that prohibits the agency from intentionally targeting U.S. residents.

The NSA's surveillance programs targeting foreign suspects are "important tools," the ODNI said in its report.

The ODNI report does not detail how many U.S. residents had their communications reviewed by intelligence agencies, Franken and Heller said in a statement.

"Americans need to have enough information to make up their own minds about surveillance programs," Franken said in a statement. "The administration's report is a far cry from the kind of transparency that the American people demand and deserve."

While the report may be offered in good faith, it "still leaves Americans in the dark," Franken added.

Franken and Heller are the main sponsors of the Surveillance Transparency Act, which would require U.S. intelligence agencies to release details about the number of U.S. residents who are targets of surveillance and disclose the number of searches run on data collected from U.S. residents.

The bill would also allow tech and communications companies to report the number of surveillance orders they received and complied with and the number of users affected.

U.S. surveillance agencies collected the communications of more than 90,000 "targets" under FISA Amendments Act authority during 2013, according to the ODNI report. The NSA collected the communications of more than 89,000 targets using a broad legal authority under the program sometimes called Prism.

In another 1,500 cases, intelligence agencies collected communications using court orders describing specific suspects.

U.S. agencies also sought customer information under the controversial National Security Letter program more than 19,000 times during 2013, the ODNI report said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is scheduled to deliver its report on the NSA's foreign surveillance programs.

In January, the board called on the NSA to abandon its collection of U.S. telephone records, with the majority of the privacy watchdog panel saying that surveillance program is illegal.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentprivacyinternettelecommunicationU.S. National Security AgencyAl FrankenDean HellerU.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Skywatcher Dobsonian 8″ Collapsible Telescope

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Whodunnit™ Duo-Scope MFL-007 Microscope Kit

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Logitech Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?