Today, New America’s Open Technology Institute joined 33 privacy and civil liberties organizations in a letter to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Coats, which we forwarded to House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte. The coalition wrote to express our dismay at the director’s announcement that he is reneging on his commitment to provide a public estimate of the number of Americans whose communications are collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Senator Wyden originally asked for this estimate in 2011. Since then, privacy and civil liberties organizations, Republican and Democrat members of the House Judiciary Committee, and several Senators have joined in this call for transparency and oversight. In response to requests from the House Judiciary Committee members, former DNI Clapper committed to publicly provide an estimate so that the information could meaningfully contribute to the reauthorization debate. At his nomination hearing, DNI Coats assumed responsibility for this commitment.
The letter explains that privacy and civil liberties experts roundly reject the DNI’s justifications for abandoning this commitment, which are based on spurious privacy concerns and potential resource constraints. We further caution that:
“Your refusal to provide this estimate leaves congressional overseers and the public back where we started in 2011: in the dark, and with justifiable and significant concerns about the effect of Section 702 surveillance on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. This omission is particularly striking given that Section 702 is set to expire at the end of the year, and the White House is urging Congress to make the authority permanent. Your decision diminishes public trust in the work the intelligence community undertakes and in its ability to adequately protect Americans’ privacy and civil rights, and as a result, will undermine mission success. We urge you to reconsider.”
The following quote can be attributed to Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead at New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“The American people and Congress have been waiting for six years for the NSA to provide an estimate of how many Americans’ communications are collected under Section 702. It is indefensible that one of DNI Coats’ first acts in office is to renege on his commitment to provide that critical information in a timely way. To add insult to injury, in breaking his promise, Coats relied entirely on the intelligence community’s debunked reasoning from 2012. The longer the intelligence community takes to let Americans know how harmful Section 702 is to their privacy, the more it seems like they simply don’t want to provide the estimate because of how significant it will be.”