Thousands of Americans became targets for government spying through “backdoor” warrantless electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies last year according to a letter from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The director’s office sent the disclosure to Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden in response to a question asked during an intelligence committee hearing on the USA FREEDOM Act NSA reform bill. The office went on to explain such surveillance was not justified by exploiting a legal “loophole,” which the House voted to close last week.

Said loophole refers specifically to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702, which gives the government the authority to collect information on targets “reasonably believed to be outside of the U.S. at the time of collection.” That information can include the communications of Americans swept up while surveilling foreign targets, which is stored by the agency and accessible by search query by NSA and other members of the intelligence community.

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