Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. acknowledged that the National Security Agency has searched for Americans’ communications without warrants in massive databases that gather e-mails and phone calls of foreign targets.
Although recently declassified documents made clear that the NSA had conducted such searches, no senior intelligence official had previously acknowledged the practice. Clapper did so in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden released Tuesday.
The program targets foreigners abroad for surveillance but captures potentially large volumes of the communications of Americans in contact with those foreigners. According to declassified court documents, the NSA harvests about 250 million Internet communications a year under the program.
The program, which does not require individual warrants for targets, is being challenged in federal court as unconstitutional. The government contends it does not need a warrant to perform queries within a database of communications it has collected lawfully.
“This is unacceptable,” Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said in a statement. “It raises serious constitutional questions, and poses a real threat to the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans.”