NSA spying update: Yahoo disclosure, Obama interview, NSA chief testimony

Another day, another U.S. government surveillance roundup:

• Yahoo became the latest tech company to disclose the number of law-enforcement requests it has received in the past several months. Its magic numbers: 12,000 to 13,000 between December and May. With its move Monday night, the Sunnyvale company joins Apple, Facebook and Microsoft in the tech companies’ quest to prove their claims that they aren’t giving the government direct access to their users’ personal information.

Yahoo also said in a blog post disclosure that it will soon release global law enforcement transparency reports twice a year, with the first one coming later this summer. In addition, it echoed the other companies in urging the government to allow them to distinguish between FISA requests and other routine requests. Citing that lack of government permission to do so, Google has so far refused to make the disclosures that the other tech giants have.

• In an interview with Charlie Rose that aired last night, President Obama reiterated his defense of government spying programs. The president characterizes the surveillance as “transparent,” and says Congress and a special FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) are its overseers.

Obama also repeated previous explanations about what the spying entails: “If you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order.” But he did not answer when Rose asked him if the FISA court turns down requests from the intelligence community, saying only that the number of requests are “surprisingly” small. (BuzzFeed has a partial transcript.)

Speaking of the FISA court, does it provide adequate oversight? Experts believe it lost some “teeth” after the 2001 Patriot Act and the  2008 FISA Amendments Act, according to NPR. The court has become “less a court than an administrative entity or ministerial clerk,” William Banks, director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, told NPR.

• NSA Chief Keith Alexander and others are testifying at a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing today. What Alexander claims: The surveillance has foiled “a little over 10” terrorist plots. He also said that “theoretically,” the spying programs could have prevented 9/11: “We couldn’t connect the dots because we didn’t have the dots,” he said. And the revelation of the programs — sparked by former government tech contractor Edward Snowden — could have “a long and irreversible impact on our nation’s security and on that of our allies,” he said.


NSA Chief Keith Alexander testifies Tuesday in Washington. (McClatchy-Tribune)


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