Udall, Wyden criticize NSA privacy assurance

Federal authorities have taken down a fact sheet, distributed by the National Security Agency, that has been criticized as containing information that gave false comfort about Americans’ privacy from government snooping.

The inaccuracy “is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they are,” senators Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote Monday to Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA.

The inaccuracy was contained in a reference to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the way it has been interpreted by the Obama administration, the senators said.

In a response on Tuesday, Alexander wrote that the fact sheet posted June 18 on the NSA website “could have more precisely described” the circumstances under which Americans could be targeted using Section 702.

Section 702 has been used by the administration to allow federal agencies to collect metadata on electronic communications. With that information, agencies can track millions of communications and compile information about individuals.

The letter didn’t identify the “inaccurate statement,” but noted that it was identified in a classified attachment.

One bullet point in the fact sheet says that under Section 702, “Any inadvertently acquired communication of or concerning a U.S. person must be promptly destroyed if it is neither relevant to the authorized purpose nor evidence of a crime.”

That point “is somewhat misleading,” the senators wrote, because it implies that the NSA can determine how many communications it has collected under Section 702 or that the section prohibits the NSA from deliberately searching for the records of specific individuals.

The senators have been told “repeatedly” that it’s impossible to identify the number of people in the United States whose communications have been reviewed under the law, the letter said.

In his letter, Alexander said the fact sheet wasn’t intended to imply that the NSA has that ability.

Inaccurate statements by the NSA “can decrease public confidence in the NSA’s openness and its commitment to protecting Americans’ constitutional rights,” Udall and Wyden wrote. “Rebuilding this confidence will require a willingness to correct misstatements and a willingness to make reforms where appropriate.”

The NSA supports efforts “to make publicly available as much information as possible about recently disclosed intelligence programs, consistent with the need to protect national security,” Alexander wrote.


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