(Adds response from Office of Director of National
By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON Dec 16 The U.S. intelligence
community will soon disclose an estimate of the number of
Americans whose electronic communications have been caught in
the crosshairs of online surveillance programs intended for
foreigners, U.S. lawmakers said in a letter seen by Reuters on
The estimate, requested by members of the U.S. House of
Representatives Judiciary Committee, is expected to be made
public as early as next month, the letter said.
Its disclosure would come as Congress is expected to begin
debate in the coming months over whether to reauthorize or
reform the so-called surveillance authority, known as Section
702, a provision that was added to the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act in 2008.
"The timely production of this information is incredibly
important to informed debate on Section 702 in the next
Congress- and, without it, even those of us inclined to support
reauthorization would have reason for concern," said the letter
signed by 11 lawmakers, all members of the House Judiciary
The letter was sent on Friday to National Intelligence
Director James Clapper. It said his office and National Security
Agency (NSA) officials had already briefed congressional staff
about how the intelligence community intends to comply with the
Clapper's office confirmed the letter had been received but
declined further comment.
The lawmakers termed their letter an effort to "memorialize
our understanding" of the intelligence community's plan to
provide an estimate in real numbers, not percentages, as soon as
January that can be shared with the public.
The government has long held that calculating the number of
Americans subject to Section 702 surveillance might be
technically impossible and would require privacy intrusions
exceeding those raised by the actual surveillance programs,
which were originally intended to counter foreign espionage.
Intelligence officials have said that online data about
Americans is "incidentally" collected under Section 702, due to
a range of technical and practical reasons. Critics have
assailed such collection as back-door surveillance of Americans
without a warrant.
Section 702 will expire on Dec. 31, 2017, absent
congressional action. It enables two internet surveillance
programs called Prism and Upstream that were revealed in a
series of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden more
than three years ago.
Prism gathers messaging data from Alphabet Inc's Google
, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple
and other major tech companies that is sent to and from a
foreign target under surveillance. Upstream allows the NSA to
copy web traffic flowing along the internet backbone located
inside the United States and search that data for certain terms
associated with a target.
Clapper, who is stepping down next month, suggested in April
that providing an estimate of Americans surveilled under Section
702, a figure some have said could tally in the millions, might
be possible, while defending the law as "a prolific producer of
Republicans James Sensenbrenner, Darrell Issa, Ted Poe and
Jason Chaffetz signed the letter, in addition to Democrats John
Conyers, Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Hank Johnson, Ted Deutch,
Suzan DelBene and David Cicilline.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Tom