The NSA's Finally Going to Start Telling Us How Many People They Spy On

President Obama's order to the intelligence community is starting to produce results. On Friday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced on Tumblr that the intelligence community will begin issuing annual transparency reports… on Tumblr of course.

Clapper's description of the report actually sounds pretty comprehensive. Perhaps most relevant to the concerns stirred up by Edward Snowden's leaks earlier this summer will be the disclosure of how many surveillance orders the intelligence community issues and how many people are affected. The report will also include information related to section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which oversees the collection of electronic communication as well as FISA-related wiretaps. There will also be information about FISA business records, like the NSA's relationship with companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, and finally, national security letters. What an orgy of information!

Not so fast. While Clapper's announcement makes it sound like the intelligence community is really opening up, let's not forget that this is the intelligence community we're talking about. Transparency means a different thing to them. You only need to look as far as the NSA's semiannual reports to Congress on its own violations of FISA rules to realize that full disclosure isn't exactly the intelligence community's thing. It's hard to be transparent, when you're busy redacting documents so heavily that they turn into sheets of black lines.

So don't go expecting the NSA and friends to open their doors and let the people peer into their inner workings. Again, we won't know how comprehensive these transparency reports will be until we see them. But it does seem like the new disclosures could affect transparency reports released by companies like Facebook and Google. Facebook, for instance, couldn't produce an exact number of data requests that came from the U.S. government due to the intelligence community's requirements to remain opaque. Maybe finally, we'll get to see just a little bit more than we did before. [IC on the Record]