A recently-declassified report alleges that multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have been actively “flouting the law” by gathering massive collections of “sensitive and intimate” data on American citizens.
According to the New York Post, the claims were made in a report to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines, which was only recently declassified and is now being amplified by watchdog groups and privacy advocates. The report details a loophole that has allowed intelligence agencies, including the FBI, DHS, and NSA, to simply buy large troves of cell phone data for tracking purposes without needing a warrant.
If the information was paid for, the report notes, then it is technically considered “publicly available.” The government only needs to ask for a warrant if they are asking to access a cell phone’s location, and thus would raise Fourth Amendment concerns necessitating a judge’s approval.
“This report reveals what we feared most,” said Sean Vitka, a policy attorney at the nonprofit Demand Progress. “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.”
The report, compiled by a group of advisers working for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), notes that despite being technically considered “publicly available information,” the data in question represents a significant public safety threat. The data that can be purchased, the report says, is “more revealing, available on more people, less possible to avoid, and less well understood” than was previously thought.
Such batches of data are usually sold after having been “anonymized,” with crucial details removed so that the only information about a person is their gender, age, and location. However, the ODNI report states that once this information is acquired, it is rather easy for the government “to de-anonymize and identify individuals.”
The report also issued a chilling warning, noting that if the same information purchased by the government were to wind up in the wrong hands, it could be used to “facilitate blackmail, stalking, harassment, and public shaming” against innocent and defenseless civilians.