The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) recently released its first annual “transparency report,” indicating, among other things, that it had targeted nearly 90,000 foreign entities for surveillance last year. According to the report, the government obtained only one order last year under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates surveillance of foreign targets, and that single order covered the 89,138 targets. Privacy advocates argue that this number is artificially low and that a target could be a sole individual or an organization with thousands of members.
The DNI report also revealed that the government uses over 420 “selectors” to search its phone database, which includes records going back to at least 2006, when the program began. The transparency report also showed that the government sent over 19,000 National Security Letters last year that involved more than 38,000 requests for information. These letters, which demand business records from a wide array of organizations for national security investigations, are deservedly under scrutiny for their lack of judicial oversight and non-disclosure provisions, which prevent the full extent of the NSL program from becoming known.
All told, however, the numbers in the transparency report only provide an approximate idea of the level of surveillance conducted, and “provides no basis for evaluating the utility or legitimacy of the surveillance activities.”
Related Link: ODNI Surveillance “Transparency Report” FY2014