America's spooks want Congress to extend massive spying powers but still won't answer Congress's basic questions

Two of the NSA's mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden are Prism (which give the NSA "bulk data" access to the servers of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others) and Upstream (through which the NSA taps the internet's fiber optic backbones). Both are possible because of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expires this year.

The NSA have come back to Congress for reauthorization of 702, with the support of both the outgoing Obama administration and the Trump administration. Members of the House and Senate committees that oversee 702 have renewed their longstanding requests for the most basic facts about these programs, such as number of Americans that the NSA is spying on through these programs.

The Obama administration stonewalled on this, and it looks like the Trump administration will as well. It also looks like the Republican Congress will reauthorize this black-box mass spying on Americans, just as the Democratic Congress did before them.

This isn't the first time lawmakers have been stonewalled on the issue. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had asked for the information in 2011, 2012, and 2014, and he's renewing the request again. Despite the lack of information, Congress has repeatedly renewed the programs even before Snowden revealed them.

"I and other members of Congress have been seeking an answer to this question since 2011. We posed the question again in the context of the reauthorization of Section 702. It is now central to the debate this year over the reauthorization of the program, which you have described as your 'top legislative priority.'" Wyden wrote in a letter to Daniel Coats, Trump's nominee for Director of National Intelligence.

Coats, however, has told Wyden he would "do everything I can" to "get you that number." However, Coats did not guarantee he would do it.

US spies still won't tell Congress the number of Americans caught in dragnet
[David Kravets/Ars Technica]