Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has announced that the US intelligence community will start revealing how many people are targeted each year by surveillance, a long-sought victory for transparency advocates. In a Tumblr post, Clapper says that the NSA and other agencies will begin releasing the total number of surveillance orders made under several programs, as well as how many people were affected by each. It's a move that members of Congress and civil liberties groups have sought for years, but Clapper says it was spurred by President Obama's post-Snowden directive to declassify as much surveillance information as possible without compromising national security.
The numbers are set to be revealed in an annual report issued by the intelligence community, including information about orders justified under various FISA and Patriot Act provisions. Among them is FISA Section 702, which authorizes collecting email and other electronic information, as well as FISA-authorized wiretaps, business record collection (which justified collecting Verizon customers' phone records), and national security letters, the secret and overused subpoenas used by the FBI. It's not known when the first report will be published, but it will appear on the same Tumblr used to declassify other documents.
Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other companies have been fighting hard for permission to publish information about how many requests they've received, and Google at least has been allowed to break out national security letters in its transparency reports. But before a series of leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden, the intelligence community had long stonewalled attempts to find out more about the scope of its programs. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) repeatedly attempted to get information about how many Americans or people on American soil are surveilled under FISA programs, but the NSA claimed doing so would be nigh impossible. It still doesn't seem to be breaking out out that number — it appears the numbers will only be broken out by program — but the veil is being lifted more than seemed possible before this summer.