Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said on Friday that each year, the Intelligence Community (IC) will release figures showing the total number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders and national security letters issued during the prior twelve-month period, and the number of targets affected by those orders. These court orders and letters are tools authorized by the Patriot Act that allow government agencies to pursue individuals suspected of terrorism and espionage.
The announcement arrives after President Obama responded to the initial NSA aftermath by directing the IC to declassify and make public as much information as possible about certain sensitive U.S. Government surveillance programs. The move is to make government surveillance more transparent to the American people without spilling too much information to watchful enemies of the state.
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"Our ability to discuss these activities is limited by our need to protect intelligence sources and methods," Clapper said. "FISA and national security letters are an important part of our effort to keep the nation and its citizens safe, and disclosing more detailed information about how they are used and to whom they are directed can obviously help our enemies avoid detection."
The IC will pull information from orders placed within five categories: FISA orders based on probable cause (Titles I and III of FISA, and sections 703 and 704); Section 702 of FISA; FISA Business Records (Title V of FISA); FISA Pen Register/Trap and Trace ( Title IV of FISA); and National Security Letters issued pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 3414(a)(5), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681u(a) and (b), 15 U.S.C. § 1681v, and 18 U.S.C. § 2709.
These reports will actually be published on Tumblr of all places, a community website that was established at the request of President Obama. Clapper said it was designed to provide immediate, ongoing and direct access to "factual information related to the lawful foreign surveillance activities carried out by the U.S. Intelligence Community". Other unclassified information related to foreign intelligence surveillance activities are also available.
Last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the NSA released three partially redacted opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that detailed concerns about how the NSA was collecting data. The court documents previously surfaced in the hands of the Washington Post who reported that the agency violated the Fourth Amendment nearly 3,000 times in a 12 month period.
Judges claimed that the NSA misled them numerous times about the scope of the agency's email collection program that is supposed to gather only emails regarding foreigners, and not from Americans unrelated to terrorism. The agency was supposedly restricted from using domestic emails, and required to destroy the records after two years. The NSA claimed the unintentional collection was a byproduct of scooping up chunks of Internet traffic connected to terror suspects.
A previous disclosure by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had amassed a huge data base of phone-related "metadata". This consisted of most of the phone calls made within the United States: the number of the sender and the receiver, the date, the time and the duration. NSA analysts were supposedly searching for suspicious numbers.
"Contrary to the government's repeated assurances, NSA had been running queries of the metadata using query terms that did not meet the required standard," the judge wrote.
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Even if they were true, what purpose would they have? "Yeah, we're still spying on you, but here are some numbers about that..."
The best solution for everyone would just be to strike down the entire Patriot Act. I'm personally willing to accept a small amount of risk (terrorism) in exchange for my privacy.