Members of the US Congress have been denied information about how the National Security Agency (NSA) collects data on American citizens.

NSA prism programme
A woman holds a portrait of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in front of her face as she stands in front of the U.S. embassy during a protest in Berlin, July 4, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)

Two Congressmen, Republican Representative of Virginia Morgan Griffith and Democratic Representative of Florida Alan Grayson, have told The Guardian that despite their repeat requests for details of the NSA's Prism programme, the US Intelligence Committee has refused to provide them with any information.

Griffith has so far sent four letters to the Committee, requesting access to court orders signed under the Foreign Intelligence Services Act (Fisa), that detail the targets selected for surveillance by the NSA.

However his repeated requests went ignored; so far, Griffith has received no response from the Intelligence Committee.

Grayson on the other hand did receive a reply, though his requests for Prism information were denied, with the Committee telling the Congressman that the documents were classified.

Griffith has raised concerns about this secrecy as he, like Grayson, is responsible for voting on legislation surrounding the Prism programme.


"If I can't get basic information about these programmes, then I'm not able to do my job," said Griffith. "How can I responsibly vote on a program I know very little about?

"I know many of my constituents will ask about this when I go home. How can I talk about NSA actions I can't learn anything about except from press accounts?"

Grayson and Griffith are not the only policymakers to encounter difficulty when requesting Prism-related information. On 31 July, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who represents Connecticut, told MSNBC that he was almost wholly unaware of the scale of the Prism programme when information about it was first leaked to the press:

"The revelations about the magnitude, the scope and scale of these surveillances, the metadata and the invasive actions surveillance of social media websites were indeed revelations to me."


Congressman Justin Amash, who recently floated an amendment to the US Defence Appropriations Bill to increase regulation over the NSA, has also been denied access to Prism information.

"I, as a member of Congress, can't get access to the court opinions," he told CNN. "I have to beg for access, and I'm denied it if I make that request."

Amash's amendment, which both Grayson and Griffith were required to vote on, was thrown out of the House of Representatives over concerns that it would limit too severely the counter-terrorism capabilities of the NSA.

As well as affecting Congressmen's decisions regarding votes such as these, the Intelligence Committee's refusal to provide Prism information is contrary to the US government's repeated assurances that the programme is thoroughly overseen by regulators in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"These programmes are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorisation and congressional debate," said President Barack Obama shortly after Prism was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. "If there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up."