Why Won’t Obama Administration Reveal How Many Americans’ Emails NSA Collected Without Warrants?
Since last year, a few members of Congress—led by Senator Ron Wyden—have been trying to get the Obama administration to answer a simple question: how many Americans’ phone calls or emails have been and are being collected and read without a warrant under the authority of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA)? Unfortunately, no one else in the government seems to want that question answered.
The question arose soon after Congress passed the FAA, which among other things sought to create immunity for telecoms that helped the NSA conduct warrantless wiretapping and gutted privacy protections for Americans communicating overseas. A New York Times investigation described how, under the FAA, a “significant and systemic” practice of “overcollection” of communications resulted in the NSA’s intercepting millions of purely domestic emails and phone calls between Americans. In addition, documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU, although heavily redacted, revealed “that violations [of the FAA and the Constitution] continued to occur on a regular basis through at least March 2010”— the last month anyone has public data for.
The FISA Amendments Act is currently up for renewal, and Sen. Wyden, along with Sen. Mark Udall, wants the NSA to answer questions about these violations before Congress extends the law for five more years. “We have concluded… that section 702 [of the Act] currently contains a loophole that could be used to circumvent traditional warrant protections and search for the communications of a potentially large number of American citizens,” the Senators alleged.
Yet not only have changes not been made to the law to address this vital concern, but the administration refuses to give the Senators any information on whether they’re correct. Back in July 2011, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told them “it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed” under the FAA.