A CNET story yesterday alleged that the NSA disclosed during a secret Capital Hill briefing that its analysts can listen to domestic phone calls “simply based on an analyst deciding that.” However, today, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement calling this story “incorrect.”
The CNET story was based on a comment by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who, according to the reporter, was told by the NSA that “the contents of a phone call could be accessed ‘simply based on an analyst deciding that.'” If found to be true, the idea that an analyst’s hunch was enough to listen to domestic phone conversations would have been quite a big deal.
According to ODNI, “the statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress.” ODNI states that members of Congress were only briefed about the implementation of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which “targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose.”
As ODNI has stated before, this regulation can’t be used to target Americans. Still, it’s possible that domestic calls will get caught up in this—the government just needs a 51% confidence that the target is not a legal citizen of the United States.
Previously, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper also stated that the recent buzz around the NSA’s PRISM program contained “numerous inaccuracies” and that PRISM couldn’t be used to mine data and “intentionally target any US citizen or any other US person.”