Clapper to publish numbers of secret spying orders

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday that he’ll now release figures every year on how many new top secret court orders and national security letters are issued and how many people are targeted because of them.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said in a statement that the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders and national security letters authorizing spying will be published on a website established to show the American people how U.S. spy agencies work. The court orders and letters are tools authorized by the USA Patriot Act to pursue suspects related to terrorism and espionage.

Publishing the numbers is part of President Barack Obama’s edict to provide more transparency and to try to convince Americans that they are not being spied on, after leaks by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed the NSA annually gathers millions of U.S. phone and Internet records and has scooped up thousands of U.S. emails mixed with those of terror suspects.

Several lawmakers have called for the court orders to be declassified, and have drafted at least 19 bills aimed at trimming the NSA’s spying authority.

The NSA made public three formerly secret court opinions last week which revealed the agency was ordered in 2011 to stop collecting thousands of Internet communications from Americans with no connection to terrorism — a practice it says was an unintended consequence when it gathered bundles of Internet traffic connected to terror suspects.

A judge had ordered the NSA to publish one of the court orders; the other two released showed the agency had changed its processes and received a legal sign-off by the secret court on a procedure to limit how long the mixed emails may be stored and how the data may be accessed when it is likely to include U.S. citizens’ emails.

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