Even under sometimes intense grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee, members of the intelligence community (IC) Tuesday continued to advocate for reauthorization of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, but widely refused to yield any details on to what extent that surveillance authority scoops up data on Americans.
Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, repeatedly asked representatives from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency (NSA) to answer senators’ questions regarding the number of Americans incidentally caught up in IC surveillance.
“…what about the privacy of those not in this room?” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked to ODNI Acting General Counsel Bradley Brooker, noting that it would be difficult to “believe transparency is really the guiding principle” if the intelligence community couldn’t identify “how many Americans have been innocently swept up” in surveillance under Section 702 authorization. “How are we supposed to have confidence you’re being careful not to involve more people than necessary to keep America safe?”
Section 702 expires December 31 and Congress is mulling whether to reauthorize it.
In a statement issued the day before the hearing, Grassley contended that Section 702 “has proven highly valuable in helping to protect the United States,” but called the “unknown scope” of incidental collection “concerning,” as is “the way in which the FBI is permitted to search already-collected 702 material.”
He also referenced “troubling” allegations of unmasking of American citizens for “partisan political purposes,” though he acknowledged that the accusations “haven’t been directed at Section 702 specifically.”