Top intelligence chief urges Congress to make surveillance law permanent

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This morning at 10:00 ET we are liveblogging the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing on Section 702, the provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act set to sunset at the end of this year.

"The NSA has made Herculean, extensive efforts to devise a counting strategy that would be accurate", Dan Coats, a career Republican politician appointed by Republican President Donald Trump as the top US intelligence official, testified to a Senate panel on Wednesday.

Section 702, which authorizes the collection of data on foreign persons overseas who use USA tech and communications services, was the legal basis for the so-called PRISM surveillance program, which reportedly taps data from nine tech titans including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others.

Critics have called the process under which the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies can query the pool of data collected for USA information a "backdoor search loophole" that evades traditional warrant requirements.

He told the Senate Intelligence Committee that even if he dedicated more resources the NSA would not be able to calculate an estimate, which privacy experts have said could be in the millions.

NSA Director Michael Rogers broke down two scenarios in which the core controversy, namely the incidental violation of the right to privacy for US citizens, comes up. Trump and his allies have accused the intelligence community of improperly unmasking USA persons, revealing their identities to former Obama administration officials who then allegedly leaked them to the press.

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"The President seems to complicate things from time to time, but it's hard for me to believe that FISA will not be renewed", said Sen.

"Without 702, we could not have produced that level of insight", Rogers said.

Privacy advocates criticized the push to make Section 702 permanent, arguing that regular reviews of the law were necessary to conduct appropriate oversight and prevent potential abuses.

"We can not allow adversaries overseas to cloak themselves in the legal protections we extend to Americans", White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert wrote in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

"I have no control of where hearings go, but I know that (Section) 702 re-authorization is an important issue, so that's where my focus is going to be and that's where everybody is programmed to talk about", Burr said.

"What the director said today is in my view a 180-degree retreat from what he said earlier and what his predecessor said earlier". You can't say that there's no impact from sweeping up law-abiding Americans' communications under this program, and then complain that counting the number of those calls and emails would violate their privacy. "I won't stop pushing for real transparency about this end-run around the Fourth Amendment". But today, four current intelligence officials are discussing amendments for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - or FISA - and are expected to also be questioned on the Russian Federation investigation.

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