Tuesday, June 25, 2013

#NSA takes surveillance fact sheets off website

from Politico.com: Following a complaint from two senators, the National Security Agency has removed from its website two fact sheets designed to shed light on and defend a pair of surveillance programs. Users now trying to access the documents detailing surveillance under legal authorities known as Section 215 and Section 702 receive an error message when they try to load the fact sheets.

On Monday, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) wrote to the head of the spy agency alleging that one of the documents was misleading and inaccurate. The senators claimed, without elaborating, that a fact sheet “contains an inaccurate statement about how the section 702 authority has been interpreted by the U.S. government.”

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander responded to the two lawmakers Tuesday, and while he didn't admit inaccuracy, he said the documents could have been clearer.

"After reviewing your letter, I agree that the fact sheet that the National Security Agency posted on its website on 18 June 2013 could have more precisely described the requirements for collection under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act," Alexander said in a letter of his own (posted here).
Separately Tuesday, another NSA official said the removal of the fact sheets and letter from the senators were unrelated.

"Given the intense interest from the media, the public, and Congress, we believe the precision of the source document (the statute) is the best possible representation of applicable authorities,” NSA spokesperson Judith Emmel said in a statement.

The documents, still available here, were published in the wake of revelations about the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs. They sought to highlight the safeguards the NSA uses to make sure American communications aren’t caught up in its surveillance — or if they are, what the NSA does to remove identifying information about U.S. citizens. Wyden and Udall, both of whom sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have long called for more transparency on how the NSA protects Americans’ privacy -- but said the NSA's fact sheets gave the wrong impression.

“The Senator has received the letter and appreciates that the misleading fact sheet has been taken down," Wyden spokesman Tom Caiazza said.

The NSA procedures for targeting foreigners and minimizing American communications were further unveiled last Thursday when The Guardian and Washington Post posted detailed copies of the guidelines. Many privacy advocates were not satisfied with the procedures, arguing that they give the government too much leeway when determining if a potential target is foreign or American. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had no comment on the procedures after they were disclosed.

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