In a letter to Mr. Wyden dated Nov. 6, John Ratcliffe, the Director of Intelligence, wrote that Section 215 had not been used to collect Internet search terms and that none of the 61 orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year under that collection of “web browsing” records.
Mr. Wyden’s office forwarded this letter to the New York Times, arguing that it meant that Mr. Wyden’s May proposal, which he co-sponsored with Senator Steve Daines, Republican of Montana, was incorporated into law at no operating cost could be.
But the Times squeezed Mr. Ratcliffe’s office and the F.B.I. to clarify whether the “web surfing” activity has been defined to log all visitors to a particular website, in addition to a particular person browsing between different websites. The next day the Justice Department sent a clarification to Mr. Ratcliffe’s office, according to a follow-up letter he sent to Mr. Wyden on November 25th.
In fact, “one of those 61 orders resulted in the creation of information that could be characterized as surfing information,” Ratcliffe wrote in the second letter. In particular, an order had authorized the collection of logs showing which computers “in a particular country” had visited “a single, identified US website”.
Mr Ratcliffe regretted “that this additional information was not included in my previous letter” and suggested that his staff could take further “corrective action”.
In a statement, Mr. Wyden said the letters “raise all sorts of new questions, including whether the government has taken steps in this particular case to avoid gathering Americans’ web browsing information.”
“More generally,” Wyden continued, “the DNI has made no guarantees that the government would no longer use the Patriot Act to intentionally gather information about Americans surfing the Internet. Therefore, Congress must meet the warrant requirement, which was already supported by a non-partisan majority in the Senate. “