Coalition to U.S. intelligence director: No backtracking on surveillance transparency

This week, Access Now joins a coalition letter urging the U.S. Director of National Intelligence not to abandon a commitment to provide additional transparency for highly invasive, privacy-stripping U.S. surveillance programs. The coalition, led by New America’s Open Technology Institute, responds to the director’s statement at a recent congressional hearing that he won’t give an estimate of the number of U.S. persons whose data have been collected under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the law under which the Prism and Upstream programs are conducted.

You can read more about Section 702 here.

The coalition letter provides details on earlier promises to provide transparency, including an assurance that information would be shared in time to inform debate on Section 702, and in any case by the end of this year, when key FAA provisions are due to expire:

More recently, members of the House Judiciary Committee have written to you and former Director Clapper three times to obtain an estimate. Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers’ most recent letter memorialized representations they say were made by NSA and ODNI in briefings for the House Judiciary Committee on the progress of fulfilling their commitment to provide an estimate, including discussions of the methodologies that would be used. Those commitments included an assurance that “[t]he ODNI and the NSA will provide us with the estimate ‘early enough to inform the debate’ about Section 702,” and that both the estimate and a description of the methodology used would be provided “in a form that could be shared with the public.” Before he retired, NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett also confirmed that an estimate would be made public by the end of 2017.

The following can be attributed to Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now:

“Director Coats’ reversal on this important issue is significantly troubling for transparency and accountability. Section 702 authorizes global surveillance that undermines the right to privacy of people in the U.S. and around the world. Giving information on the U.S. persons implicated by this authority would not have provided adequate transparency on its full reach. However, it was a vitally important step toward getting the information we need to understand how the programs impact people and their personal data.

“Now, rather than taking a first step forward, we are leaping backward. Refusing to honor that pledge backtracks on the transparency that the intelligence community has continually promised to provide after revelations that these programs are overbroad, and it shows profound disrespect for the people to whom those promises were made, in the U.S. and elsewhere. We urge Director Coats to stop burying the truth, uphold his predecessor’s promise, and live up to his duty to provide the transparency and accountability the public expects and deserves.”

The full letter is available here.