Obama administration: Accountability for NSA spying would harm Americans’ privacy

Robert Litt
General Councel for the
Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Madison Ruppert
Activist Post

Obama administration officials told the Senate today that bringing even limited public accountability to the massive surveillance programs of the National Security Agency (NSA) would actually harm the privacy of Americans.

There has been a significant push against bringing any degree of transparency to the NSA, which is hardly surprising given that even Congress was apparently kept in the dark about many of the surveillance programs.

The latest statement came during a meeting of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee during which they debated legislation that would make the government release statistics on the number of Americans who had their data captured by various NSA programs.

The Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, proposed by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), would require the government to annually disclose the number of Americans who had information collected on them, even if they were not directly targeted for surveillance.

The legislation would also allow companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft to release the number of their uses that have been targeted under NSA programs.

Meanwhile, legislators in Washington are debating two other proposals, one of which would bolster the authority of the NSA to conduct widespread surveillance and another which would reduce that authority significantly, according to Threat Level.

The Obama administration officials’ statement is somewhat hard to believe, something which Wired drove home by noting that they said it with a “straight face.”

Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, along with Bradford Wiegmann, deputy assistant attorney general, said that Franken’s proposed legislation would have a “privacy diminishing effect.”

If intelligence officials had to review all data collected under their phone and internet surveillance programs, it would violate the privacy of Americans, they stated written testimony to the Committee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

“Attempting to identify the numbers of persons or U.S. persons whose communications or information may be incidentally collected would, in practice, have a privacy-diminishing effect directly contrary to the aims of this bill,” they stated, according to Wired.

Litt also argued that information on the number of persons whose data is collected if they are not the targeted individual is impractical, according to Talk Radio News Service.

“Attempting to make this determination would require the intelligence community to research and review personally identifying information solely for the purpose of complying with the reporting requirements, even if the information has not been determined to contain foreign intelligence,” the two stated. “Such an effort would conflict with our efforts to protect privacy.”

Kevin Bankston, an attorney on staff with the Center for Democracy and Technology, said to the Senate panel that the Obama administration officials’ position “doesn’t make sense to me.”

“The privacy has already been violated,” Bankston said.

While a Google lawyer argued that reform was needed to allow users to learn about the collection of their data, Litt said that the companies should remain gagged.

“The more detail we provide out there, the more easy it becomes for our adversaries to talk, and where not to talk,” Litt said.

If passed, Franken’s legislation would require the government to reveal how many Americans had their phone metadata captured by the NSA and how many had data acquired as part of the massive PRISM program.

“There is no question the American people need more information about these types of programs,” Franken said.

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This article first appeared at End the Lie.

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