N.S.A. Disclosure of U.S. Identities in Surveillance Reports Nearly Tripled in 2023

The number of times the National Security Agency identified Americans or U.S. entities last year in intelligence reports containing information from a high-profile warrantless surveillance program nearly tripled from 2022, the government disclosed on Tuesday.

The sharp increase in so-called unmaskings, to more than 31,300 times, arose from attempts by foreign hackers to infiltrate the computer systems of critical infrastructure — not individual people, officials said. In particular, a single intelligence report last year identified a “large number” of potential American entities a hacker sought to breach, the report said.

The report was the most recent set of surveillance-related statistics made public each spring by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, providing a measure of transparency into how intelligence agencies use their electronic spying powers.

Such information was once kept tightly secret, but after the 2013 leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden set off a broad debate about Americans’ privacy, the government began issuing the report in an effort to build public trust.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, normally requires a warrant for national-security wiretapping on American soil. A provision of that law, known as Section 702, is an exception, allowing the government to collect, without a warrant, the messages and data of foreigners abroad from U.S. companies like Google and AT&T — even when they are communicating with Americans.

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