NSA cites privacy concerns for u-turn over revealing the number of Americans it spies on

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Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act -- the legislation used to permit the NSA to conduct online surveillance -- is due to expire at the end of the year. We have already seen a number of the big names from the world of technology calling for a number of changes during reform.

As part of the reform, officials had promised that they would reveal broad details about the number of American citizens about whom information has been, and is, collected. This is no longer the case. The Director of National Intelligence has performed a u-turn on the promise.

At a hearing about Section 702, Dan Coats said that the promised estimates of Americans affected by surveillance would not be provided. The reasons given are concerns about national security and (ironically, as the Electronic Freedom Foundation points out) privacy.

EFF explains:

He told lawmakers it is "infeasible to generate an exact, accurate, meaningful, and responsive methodology that can count how often a U.S. person's communications may be incidentally collected under Section 702." To do so would require diverting NSA analysts' attention away from their current work to "conduct additional significant research" to determine whether the communications collected under Section 702 are American. "I would be asking trained NSA analysts to conduct intense identity verification research on potential U.S. persons who are not targets of an investigation," he said. "From a privacy and civil liberties perspective, I find this unpalatable."

The privacy-focused EFF suggests that now is the time to allow Section 702 to lapse -- but this seems unlikely at the moment.

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