Washington • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that the National Security Agency has searched for Americans’ communications without warrants in massive databases that gather emails and phone calls of foreign targets.
Although recently declassified documents made clear that the NSA had conducted such searches, no senior intelligence official had previously acknowledged the practice. Clapper did so in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden released Tuesday.
Clapper did not disclose the number of times the NSA had searched for Americans’ communications without a warrant as part of a program authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
The program targets foreigners overseas for surveillance but captures potentially large volumes of the communications of Americans in contact with those foreigners. According to declassified court documents, the NSA harvests about 250 million Internet communications a year under the program.
The program, which does not require individual warrants for targets, is being challenged in federal court as unconstitutional.
"This is unacceptable," Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a statement. "It raises serious constitutional questions, and poses a real threat to the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans."
Wyden and Udall have co-sponsored legislation that would require the government to seek a warrant before querying the Section 702 database for Americans’ data.
Last month, Robert Litt, the general counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, appeared to suggest that the number of queries involving Americans’ data was high enough to make court approval for each query impractical.
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