NSA director says govt. should have disclosed surveillance program before Snowden leaks

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The outgoing deputy director of the U.S. National Security Agency has expressed some regret over how the government handled its telephone surveillance efforts, saying that the program should have been disclosed to the public before it was leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Richard Ledgett spoke with Reuters this week, ahead of his retirement next month, about the controversial program, which is set to expire on Dec. 31 if the U.S. Congress does not extend it. Known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is intended to collect digital communications from foreigners overseas, but in the process also logs calls made by American citizens domestically.

Going forward, the NSA plans to be “very open” about the Section 702 program — an effort officials want to portray as a lesson they learned from the Snowden leaks. They note that the program sometimes captures telephone numbers and time stamps, but not the content of the calls.

However, the NSA and U.S. government still have not disclosed how many Americans have had their calls logged by the policy. Ledgett and the NSA say they plan to provide an estimate at some point this year.

Ledgett said that perhaps Snowden’s revelations would have been “less shocking” if the U.S. government had revealed some information about Section 702 prior to the leak. Snowden remains wanted in the U.S. for allegedly violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property, and he lives under asylum in Russia.

Snowden will be the keynote speaker at One World Identity’s K(NO)W Identity Conference on May 15. Attendees in Washington D.C. will have the opportunity to ask the former NSA contractor questions, and he will answer them live via stream from Russia.