House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte & Ranking Member Conyers Seek Answers on Americans Swept Up Under Foreign Intelligence Programs

Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) requested that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence provide a public estimate of the number of communications involving U.S. persons incidentally swept up under FISA Section 702.
 
FISA Section 702, which targets the communications of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States in order to protect national security, reportedly contributes to more than a quarter of all National Security Agency surveillance and has been used on multiple occasions to detect and prevent horrific terrorist plots against our country. Although Congress designed this authority to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States, it is clear that Section 702 surveillance programs can and do incidentally collect information about U.S. persons when U.S. persons communicate with the foreign targets of Section 702 surveillance.
 
In their letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Goodlatte and Conyers state it is crucial that members of the House Judiciary Committee understand the impact of Section 702 on U.S. persons as the Committee proceeds with the debate regarding the reauthorization of this surveillance authority. They request that Director Coats provide a public estimate of the number of communications involving U.S. persons subject to Section 702 surveillance as soon as possible in order to inform public debate on the law.
 
Below is the text of the letter. The signed letter can be found here.
 

April 7, 2017

 
The Hon. Daniel Coats
Director of National Intelligence
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Washington, DC, 20511
 
 
Dear Director Coats:
 
One year ago, several members of our Committee wrote to your predecessor to request “a public estimate of the number of communications or transactions involving United States persons subject to Section 702 surveillance on an annual basis.” Members subsequently followed up with additional requests for the same information. We appreciate the technical and logistical challenges presented by these requests, but we remain convinced that this estimate is crucial as we contemplate reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act.
 
We write today to renew the requests of our colleagues.  We also ask that you provide us with an update on this request no later than April 24, 2017. 
 
You have described reauthorization of Section 702 as your “top legislative priority.” Although Congress designed this authority to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States, it is clear that Section 702 surveillance programs can and do collect information about U.S. persons, on subjects unrelated to counterterrorism.  It is imperative that we understand the size of this impact on U.S. persons as our Committee proceeds with the debate on reauthorization.
 
In a December 16, 2016 letter to Director Clapper, several of our colleagues outlined the Committee’s understanding of the project so far:

  • The ODNI and the NSA will provide us with the estimate “early enough to inform the debate” about Section 702.
  • The information will be in a form that can be shared with the public.
  • Any estimates will be presented in real numbers—not merely percentages.
  • As ODNI and NSA survey the data, they may encounter information from individuals about whom there is insufficient information to know whether they are Americans or located inside the United States.  The number of these individuals will be included in any reporting as well.
  • ODNI and NSA will provide us with an explanation of the methodology chosen to conduct this survey of Section 702 programs.
  • Although we recognize that you may provide us with additional details about this project in a classified setting, ODNI and NSA will make a description of the methodology available to the public.
  • If your office chooses a methodology that is materially different from the approaches already discussed with our staff, ODNI and NSA will brief us on the matter as soon as possible.

 

Unless you communicate otherwise, we will assume that this understanding of the project—which is based on multiple briefings to our staff by ODNI and NSA—is still accurate.
 
At your confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Ron Wyden (D-WA) pressed you on the importance of delivering on this estimate.  You responded: “I’m going to do everything I can to work with Admiral Rogers in NSA to get you that number.”  We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and look forward to your response.
 
Sincerely,
 
Bob Goodlatte                   John Conyers
Chairman                          Ranking Member