National Intelligence GC Addresses Surveillance Programs
Robert Litt, the U.S. intelligence community's top lawyer, on Friday tried to assuage concerns about the government's data gathering after National Security Agency leaks last month, saying it's both legal and limited.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., the general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the government's data collecting is a "sensible" approach to effective surveillance in the digital age. He said the government amasses "large volumes" of user data, but it only uses the information as part of counterterrorism efforts authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other measures.
The United States isn't "listening to everything said by the citizens of any country" through its surveillance procedures, Litt added.
Speaking to the legal underpinnings of the government’s surveillance efforts, Litt said, "They allow the intelligence community to collect information that is important to protect our nation and its allies, while protecting privacy by imposing appropriate limits on the use of that information," adding, "Much is collected, but access, analysis, and dissemination are subject to stringent controls and procedures."
The Washington Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper published stories in June reporting that the government has far-reaching access into user information held by Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo! Inc., and other U.S. companies.
The tech industry has since tried to assure its customers that companies don't readily share user data with U.S. authorities and are proponents of increased government transparency on data collection. A 64-member coalition, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials, saying that the government should permit Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers to publicly report statistics about national security-related requests.
The government is trying to declassify more information about its data gathering, according to Litt.
"There's a lot of material that we're working on declassifying," he said. "We're trying to prioritize things that we think are [in] the greatest public interest."