A newly declassified report confirms US intelligence agencies are stockpiling data on Americans through their tech like phones, cars, fitness trackers, web browsing, and much more.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report, completed in January 2022, was only recently declassified after Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon requested it.
“Congress needs to pass legislation to put guardrails around government purchases, to rein in private companies that collect and sell this data, and keep Americans’ personal information out of the hands of our adversaries,” Wyden said in a statement.
In the report, Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, was informed that the Unites States government has been secretly compiling a “large amount” of “sensitive and intimate information” about its own citizens.
It turns out that not only is private information being compiled and sold by companies such as apps, social media platforms, phone companies and the like, the US government is one of the businesses that are purchasing that data.
“This report reveals what we feared most,” said Sean Vitka, a policy attorney at the nonprofit Demand Progress, WIRED reports. “Intelligence agencies are flouting the law and buying information about Americans that Congress and the Supreme Court have made clear the government should not have.”
“I’ve been warning for years that if using a credit card to buy an American’s personal information voids their Fourth Amendment rights, then traditional checks and balances for government surveillance will crumble,” Sen. Wyden added.
“This report makes it clear that the government continues to think it can buy its way out of constitutional protections using taxpayers’ own money,” said Chris Baumohl, a law fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “Congress must tackle the government’s data broker pipeline this year, before it considers any reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
One of the major problems with the US government purchasing this “anonymized” data is that, as Gizmodo puts it, “it does not stay anonymous in the hands of U.S. spy agencies.”
“Today, in a way that far fewer Americans seem to understand, and even fewer of them can avoid, [commercially available information] includes information on nearly everyone that is of a type and level of sensitivity that historically could have been obtained, if at all, only through targeted (and predicated) collection,” write the report authors. All that data “can reveal sensitive and intimate information about individuals,” the 48-page account emphasizes. “It could be used to cause harm to an individual’s reputation, emotional well-being, or physical safety.”
“While each data broker source may provide only a few data elements about a consumer’s activities, data brokers can put all of these data elements together to form a more detailed composite of the consumer’s life,” the ODNI report states.
The report continues, “The government would never have been permitted to compel billions of people to carry location tracking devices on their persons at all times, to log and track most of their social interactions, or to keep flawless records of all their reading habits. Yet smartphones, connected cars, web tracking technologies, the Internet of Things, and other innovations have had this effect without government participation.”
Sen. Wyden warned in his statement, “If the government can buy its way around Fourth Amendment due-process, there will be few meaningful limits on government surveillance.”