- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2017

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats begged for renewal of the nation’s top foreign electronic snooping program Friday, saying it’s gotten a bad rap and the program’s error rate is less than one in a hundred.

Mr. Coats and other top administration officials want Congress to grant a full, permanent reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs the government’s ability to intercept electronic communications of foreigners located overseas.

The provision is set to expire, and a number of members of Congress have called for major changes if it’s to be renewed, saying they fear Americans are being snared in the collection.

Mr. Coats, though, said those who run the program already work hard to protect Americans’ rights. He said the error rate of “unintended” collection is about half a percentage point each year.

“Throughout the life of this authority, we have not found one intentional breach — one intentional misuse of this authority. That is a record that speaks to the care in which we impose,” Mr. Coats said while speaking at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Mr. Coats referenced an unsigned or late report as an example of unintended errors, but recently revealed documents suggest the error rate refers to the number of Americans incidentally impacted by the program.

Critics of Section 702 say one percent of communications is still a high number — but no one knows the exact number of communications collected through the surveillance tool because intelligence officials have been tight-lipped about that information.

Top Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have offered a bill to impose changes on the 702 program, which they said would balance the needs of the intelligence community with concerns from civil liberty groups. Their bill would require more reporting, require special approval before some communications can be accessed or released, and would only grant another six years of permission to operate.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said he and Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, will offer even stricter reforms in the Senate very soon.

Mr. Coats said he has invited lawmakers to come see how the surveillance authority works within the FBI and other agencies, but some members of Congress have turned down his offer.

“We are up against those who frankly just have a total distrust in government. They just simply refuse to think that government has any interest in adhering to the Fourth Amendment or keeping their privacy,” Mr. Coats said.

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