Intel Chief Clapper: NSA Poked Into Americans' Email, Calls

Tuesday, 01 Apr 2014 10:40 PM

By Jason Devaney

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James Clapper, director of national intelligence, has confirmed in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden that the U.S. government has been spying on Americans' email and phone records without a warrant.

According to the New York Times, which said it had obtained a copy of the March 28 letter, Clapper said intelligence analysts accessed the massive database of records the NSA collected and searched for individual emails and phone records.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, called the practice "unacceptable."

"It is now clear to the public that the list of ongoing intrusive surveillance practices by the NSA includes not only bulk collection of Americans' phone records but also warrantless searches of the content of Americans' personal communications," Wyden said in a joint statement with Sen. Mark Udall, the Times reported.

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"This is unacceptable," the statement says. "It raises serious constitutional questions and poses a real threat to the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans."

Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who currently lives in Russia under temporary political asylum, revealed the NSA's spying program. The agency responded by declassifying several documents linked to the surveillance, but Clapper's letter to Wyden tells more of the story.

During a Jan. 29 hearing, Clapper declined to say whether any targeted searches had taken place, but promised to reply to Wyden in writing. The letter appears to be his response.

"There have been queries, using U.S. person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence by targeting non-U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. pursuant to Section 702 of FISA," Clapper wrote. "These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the FISA Court as consistent with the statute and the Fourth Amendment."

In 2008, the FISA Amendments Act made the Bush-era warrantless surveillance program legal. It was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and allowed the government to intercept phone calls and emails without a warrant. The law pertained to non-U.S. citizens living overseas.

In 2011, the law was amended and the government was granted authority to search the database for emails and call records of U.S. citizens as well.

The Obama administration said it would stop the practice of collecting Americans' data in bulk, and instead would rely on phone companies to provide the government with information if it needs it.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, one of the NSA's biggest critics, was skeptical of Obama's announcement.

"We'll have to see what happens," Paul said last week. "The president sometimes says one thing and does another, so, the devil is in the details here."

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