NSA Wont Tell Senators How Many U.S. Persons are Spied on Under FISA Because It Would Violate Privacy

(Photo: NSA.gov)

Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall recently asked the National Security Administration how many American communications have been spied upon under the privileges of the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They’ve received a response and for those with privacy concerns in mind, the answer may surprise you.

(Related: NSA chief denies spying on communications of American citizens)

According to Wired, the NSA won’t reveal just how many American communications they’ve reviewed because it believes this would be a violation of privacy. The more specific question from Wyden and Udall was “how many people inside the United States have had their communications collected or reviewed under the authorities granted by section 702?” Here’s the response from the letter sent to Wyden and Udall from Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence I. Charles McCullough:

The NSA IG provided a classified response on 6 June 2012. I defer to his conclusion that obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA mission. He further stated that his office and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons.

Wired has a follow-up from the Senators who are a little put off by this response:

“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Wyden told Danger Room on Monday. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”

Just last week Wyden blocked the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012 from immediate approval by a Senate subcommittee, wanting it to go to a full floor vote, Wired reported. Tuesday afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee is set to address the re-authorization of the 2008 law, which will expire this year if no action is taken.

Update: On Tuesday afternoon the House committee approved reauthorization of FIFS Amendments Act, voting 23-11.