The United States intelligence community has promised lawmakers it will provide as soon as January 2017 a public estimate of the number of Americans whose digital communications were subject to surveillance under the pretense of capturing foreign espionage, according to a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers' letter that Reuters saw and reports here.
Republicans James Sensenbrenner, Darrell Issa, Ted Poe and Jason Chaffetz signed the letter, in addition to Democrats John Conyers, Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Hank Johnson, Ted Deutch, Suzan DelBene and David Cicilline.
The decision would reverse the government's longstanding position that calculating such a number may be technically impossible and would require privacy intrusions exceeding those raised by the actual surveillance programs.
It also comes as Congress is expected to begin debate in the coming months over whether to reauthorize or reform the surveillance authority, known as Section 702, a provision that was added to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008.
The letter, sent on Friday to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, said his office and National Security Agency officials had briefed congressional staff about how the intelligence community intends to comply with the lawmakers' disclosure request.
Clapper's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter is signed by 11 lawmakers on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and is described as an effort to "memorialize our understanding" of IC's plan to provide a real number estimate, in percentages, as soon as next month that can be made public.
"The timely production of this information is incredibly important to informed debate on Section 702 in the next Congress— and, without it, even those of us inclined to support reauthorization would have reason for concern," the letter said.