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US government issues first transparency report for FISA, NSL requests

updated 04:47 pm EDT, Fri June 27, 2014

Director of National Intelligence report reveals number of surveillance requests in 2013

The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has released a report, revealing a number of insights into the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA). The report, posted on Tumblr, comes as part of a DNI directive from August 2013, itself prompted by President Obama in June of the same year, with the report listing how many information requests and surveillance-related activities have been performed by the US government in the entirety of last year.

Similar to transparency reports provided by Google, Facebook, and other technology companies, the report breaks down the requests into FISA Orders and National Security Letters (NSL), with further detail provided for each category.

For the full year, 1,767 FISA Orders were issued based on probable cause, affecting 1,144 targets. The report clarifies that the word "target" has multiple meanings, and ranges from an individual person, to a group, to "a foreign power that possesses or is likely to communicate foreign intelligence information that the US government is authorized to acquire." Under section 702 of FISA, effectively covering the collection of foreign data under PRISM and other similar NSA systems, there is only one actual order, though this affects an estimated 89,138 targets. FISA Pen Register and Trap and Trace orders totaled 131, affecting 310 people.

Business records provision under FISA is also brought up, with a total of 178 applications made in the year. When looked at closer, the report gives three categories for figures relating to estimated targets. The number of targets "subject to a business records application to obtain information about a specific subject" reached 172 in the period, while the "number of selectors approved to be queried under the NSA telephony metadata program" is believed to be 423 targets. The number of "known or presumed US persons who were the subject of queries of information collected in bulk or who were subject to a business records application" is estimated at 248 people.

For the NSL section, the report opts to give out exact figures, rather than in bands of 1,000 that technology companies are restricted to. In 2013, a total of 19,212 NSLs were issued, incorporating 38,832 requests for information.

Richard Salgado, Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google, welcomed the report from the DNI, calling it a "step in the right direction of increasing trust in both government and Internet services, and it demonstrates again that governments can embrace transparency while protecting national security," but warns that "there is still more to be done." Salgado first warns that the report makes it impossible to compare with transparency reports issued by technology companies, taking issue with the use of "targets" rather than listing the number of accounts. A request for more information about the targets is also made, with the claim that, while Google and companies can provide a "limited snapshot," the government can provide a "complete picture."

Google's support of legislation proposed by Senator Franken last year that would require the release of more statistics regarding the size and scope of search and review data is also referenced in Salgado's blog post, along with its support of the USA Freedom Act, which again calls for more national security data. After pointing out the House made improvements on terms set out by the Department of Justice in the Freedom Act last month, Google hopes "that the Senate paves the way for companies to share more details about the national security demands that we receive."

by MacNN Staff



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