As the U.S. Senate debates the renewal of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, a letter from U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and a bipartisan group of legislators including Mark Udall (D-Colo.) Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mike Lee (R- Utah), Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) requests more information about the number of Americans' communications secretly collected by the U.S. government and raises concerns about a loophole in the four-year old surveillance law that gives the government the ability to search for Americans' private communications without a warrant.
In a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the group of senators asked for unclassified information on how many communications to or from Americans may have had been collected under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and whether the government has conducted warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of individual Americans.
"We are concerned that Congress and the public do not currently have a full understanding of the impact that this law has had on the privacy of law-abiding Americans," the senators wrote in the letter. "In particular, we are alarmed that the intelligence community has stated that "it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located inside the United States whose communications may have been reviewed' under the FISA Amendments Act."
Section 702 of the FISA statute (which was created by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008) gave the government new authorities to collect the communications of foreigners located outside the U.S. The executive branch has said that it cannot estimate how many American citizens may have been swept up in section 702 collections and the current law offers no prohibition against searching that collection of communications obtained without a warrant for communications of American citizens. The Senators state that this loophole should be closed.
"If, as we have noted, the intelligence community has not even estimated how many Americans have had their communications collected under section 702, then it is possible that this number could be quite large," the senators continue in the letter. "Since all of the communications collected under section 702 are collected without individual warrants, we believe that there should be clear rules prohibiting the government from circumventing traditional warrant requirements and searching through these communications in an effort to find the phone calls or emails of particular Americans."