A Senate leader is asking Daniel Coats, the nominee for the vacant director of national intelligence position, to specify the number of Americans whose communications have been collected as part of the Section 702 surveillance program used by the NSA.
In a letter sent this week to Coats, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) repeated a request that he made of Coats during a recent hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about how often Americans are caught up in surveillance conducted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That section, which is under consideration for renewal at the moment, allows law enforcement to collect signals intelligence on non-U.S. person who are in the country under certain circumstances. Wyden wants to know the number of Americans whose phone calls, emails, and other electronic communications have been collected as part of those surveillance programs.
“I and other members of Congress have been seeking an answer to this questions since 2011. We posed the question again in the context of the reauthorization of Section 702 in 2012. It is now central to the debate this year over the reauthorization of the program, which you have described as your ‘top legislative priority’,” Wyden wrote in the letter.
Coats, a former Republican senator, is President Trump’s nominee for DNI, the top intelligence position in the country. On Thursday the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 13-2 to send Coats’s nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. Wyden was one of the dissenting votes, along with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Wyden said after the vote that despite his personal respect for Coats, he couldn’t vote for his confirmation.
“However, for six years the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has failed to deliver to the Senate vital oversight information. That information is critical to the central premise of smart intelligence policy: security and liberty are not mutually exclusive and Americans deserve both. Given that there has not been a firm commitment to deliver this critical information, I cannot support any DNI nominee without that material,” Wyden said.
Section 702 of the FISA, which first came to wide public attention in 2013 with the publication of the documents stolen by Edward Snowden, has been under scrutiny by lawmakers and privacy advocates for years. Critics of the provision say that it is applied to broadly and point to the lack of public insight into the process as a problem. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approves the certifications that intelligence agencies use to collect data under this provision.
Wyden, an outspoken voice on surveillance and privacy issues, said in his letter that it’s vital for lawmakers to understand how often the communications of Americans are part of Section 702 collection operations.
“The lack of information on the extent to which Americans’ communications have been collected under Section 702 is relevant not just to the question of whether Section 702 should be reauthorized, but to what reform may be needed,” Wyden said.
Section 702 would expire at the end of this year if it’s not reauthorized.