The intelligence community has ramped up searches of US citizens’ data, according to a 2015 transparency report released earlier this week. The report details 4,672 surveillance queries concerning known US citizens, a number that has doubled since the 2013 report, as pointed out by The Intercept. That number includes queries made the NSA and CIA but not the FBI, although the bureau does have access to the database.
The database is fed by the NSA’s bulk collection efforts, which vast quantities of internet data collected overseas. Intelligence agencies query the database without a warrant, relying on section 702 of FISA. In these 4,672 cases, that means the agencies have warrantless access to the private conversations of US citizens — a power many have described as unconstitutional. It’s particularly egregious since, unlike the FBI, both the NSA and CIA are chartered for foreign surveillance, and have no jurisdiction for US operations. The report also identifies more than 48,000 targets of National Security Letters, a common business request that has also been criticized as unconstitutional.
Since 2011, Congress has been asking the NSA for an estimate on how many US citizens are affected by the 702 program — but this week’s disclosures are too narrow to entirely address the request. The latest number only counts subjects positively identified as US citizens before the query was made, leaving out incidental collection of US calls or internet connections revealed after the fact.