News & Politics

Straight From the NSA's Mouth: We Searched You Without a Warrant

Clapper finally admits to senators that the NSA performed warrantless searches.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Andrey_Popov

In a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, NSA Director James Clapper finally admitted what had already been revealed in secret documents: the NSA has spied on Americans without first securing search warrants. 

"There have been queries, using US person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence by targeting non US persons reasonably believed to be located outside the US," Clapper said in the letter. 

Those Americans whose communications were searched without a warrant were targeted as part of a program aimed at foreign "persons of interest." That program was authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. 

Under that section, individual warrants are not needed to spy on Americans believed to be connected to certain foreign people if their communications are swept up as part of "lawful" bulk data collection. The program is currently facing challenges in federal court, and two senators are proposing legislation that would require the government to secure a warrant before searching the communiations of any American whose correspondence is sucked into the 702 database. 

At least one official has said that the NSA is spying on so many people in the 702 database that a requirement to obtain a warrant would be highly impractical, according to The Washington Post. 

“The number of times that we query the 702 database for information is considerably larger” than the number of times queries are made of the NSA’s telephone records database assembled under a program to search for clues to terrorist networks, Robert S. Litt, the general counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent watchdog.


Aaron Cantú is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_
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