Donald Trump's administration is pushing for the permanent reauthorisation of a law that allows the government to track emails and phone calls of non-US citizens outside the country, despite some concerns by Congress about protecting Americans' privacy and civil liberties.
It should go without saying: if the Intelligence Community is truly anxious about the privacy and civil liberties of ordinary Americans, officials will take the looming Section 702 sunset as an opportunity to give lawmakers the information they need to have an informed and meaningful debate about how government spying programs impact Americans' privacy.
"If we were to lose the 702 authority, I would fully expect leaders from some of our closest allies would put out one loud scream", said Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency.
The law, enshrined in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is due to expire on December 31 unless Congress votes to reauthorize it, but is considered vital by US intelligence agencies.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats brought out the sass when Sen.
"We're not going to reauthorize these surveillance programs if the American people are not satisfied that their security is going to be safeguarded", Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican and House intelligence committee member, said last month on Fox News.
"We're working on that with the Congress and we'll come to a satisfactory resolution, because we have to", said Ledgett, who has since retired from public service.
Section 702, which authorizes the collection of data on foreign persons overseas who use USA tech and communications services, was the legal basis for the so-called PRISM surveillance program, which reportedly taps data from nine tech titans including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others.More news: BJP chief calls Mahatma Gandhi 'bahut chatur baniya', Congress demands apology
The decision to scrap the estimate is likely to complicate a debate in Congress over whether to curtail certain aspects of the surveillance law, congressional aides said. The law is set to expire on December 31 if Congress does not extend it or fails to pass the proposed bill.
Privacy issues often scramble traditional party lines, but there are signs that Section 702's renewal will be even more politically unpredictable.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has been wary of increasing the government's surveillance powers, criticised Mr Coats for not providing "a relative metric for the number of law-abiding Americans" whose information was incidentally collected under Section 702. Trump denies there was collusion.
But the intelligence community can surveil foreigners under Section 702, and if those foreigners are speaking with or about United States persons, then the Americans' identities may be included in intelligence reports summarizing the monitored conversations.
"As big a fan as I am of collection, incidental collection, I'm not going to reauthorize a program that could be politically manipulated", Senator Lindsey Graham, usually a defender of USA surveillance activities, told reporters this week. The government has so far gained the support to reauthorize the statute on a permanent basis from over a dozens senators - including every Republican on the Senate intelligence panel, according to Reuters.
"How can we accept the government's reassurance that our privacy is being protected when the government itself has no idea how many Americans' communications are being swept up and stored?" said Liza Goitein, a privacy expert at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Critics have called the process under which the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies can query the pool of data collected for USA information a "backdoor search loophole" that evades traditional warrant requirements.