A newly declassified US intelligence report says US intelligence agencies are collecting a sizable amount of “sensitive and intimate information” on its own citizens.
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The report, which was completed in January of last year but only declassified and released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Friday, highlights the extent to which Americans’ personal data is at risk in an era when the government seems to believe it can skirt privacy protections if it simply purchases data from private companies rather than obtaining it through the legal system.
Experts believe the practise of purchasing data collected by corporations on citizens represents a major threat to privacy. The report states that the government is under the impression that it can, for all intents and purposes, legally track the phones of millions of Americans with no warrant by purchasing data.
Information from smart phones could theoretically provide the government with data on everything from their communications to their location.
The report was released at the behest of Sen Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat who has for years championed privacy issues. Mr Wyden, in a statement issued following the release of the report, called on Congress to address the purchasing of private data.
“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,” Mr Wyden said in part.
Indeed, the ODNI report itself recommends that US spy agencies catalog the data they collect on Americans and develop protocols for protecting that data from foreign entities.
It remains unclear exactly how much personal data the US government has collected on its citizens or what, if any, agreements it has in place with private corporations to purchase information. The report also suggests that the data could be a target for foreign countries looking to collect intelligence on US citizens and that the collection of information alone makes Americans vulnerable to blackmail and public shaming.
The US government has for years stood accused of collecting large amounts of information on its citizens, a task made easier by the proliferation of digital communications and data. The kind of data the government is reportedly purchasing is often anonymised before being sold, but the report claims that it is not complicated to de-anonymise.
“This report reveals what we feared most,” Sean Vitka, a policy attorney with the nonprofit Demand Progress, toldWired. “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.”