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

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Tags Dean HellertelecommunicationsecurityU.S. National Security AgencyAl FrankengovernmentU.S. Office of Director of National Intelligenceinternetprivacy

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