UPDATED: Groups Request Information on How Many Americans Are ‘Incidentally’ Swept Up in NSA’s Foreign Surveillance

UPDATE: In response to the earlier request from more than 30 civil liberties groups, the Director of National Intelligence sent a letter suggesting a meeting while hinting that much of the requested information on Section 702 surveillance may not be forthcoming.  On January 13, most of the same organizations replied with a letter welcoming the opportunity to meet, but noting that “meaningful progress can happen only if officials are willing to engage on our specific points and proposals.”

For more in-depth information, see this Brennan Center blog post.

ORIGINAL POST (10/29/15): More than 30 other privacy and civil liberties organizations joined TCP in asking Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to determine and disclose how many Americans are swept up in NSA surveillance under a law that authorizes the agency to target foreigners overseas.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the NSA to collect the phone calls and e-mails of anyone reasonably believed to be a foreigner overseas, as long as acquiring “foreign intelligence” is a significant purpose of the surveillance. Because the law doesn’t require the target to be suspected of any crime, and because international communication is common, Section 702 surveillance is virtually guaranteed to also acquire millions of communications between innocent Americans and foreigners.

“[T]here remains a significant and conspicuous knowledge gap when it comes to the impact of Section 702 surveillance on Americans,” the groups wrote in a letter organized by the Brennan Center for Justice and delivered to Clapper on October 29.

“Information about that impact is critical in light of official representations that Section 702 is aimed at foreign threats and that collection of Americans’ information is merely ‘incidental.’ The American public must have the data necessary to evaluate and weigh these official claims,” the groups said.

The groups asked Clapper for a public estimate of the number of communications or transactions involving American citizens and residents that are subject to Section 702 surveillance each year, as well as the number of times each year that the FBI uses a U.S. person identifier to query databases that include Section 702 data, and the number of times the queries return such data.

In addition to TCP and the Brennan Center, other organizations signing the letter include American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Liberty Coalition, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, New America’s Open Technology Institute, R Street, and TechFreedom.

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