BY Jack Davis, The Western JournalJune 13, 2023
1 year ago
 | June 13, 2023
1 year ago

Government Spy Agencies Caught Purchasing Massive Amounts of Your Personal Data - Could Cause 'Harm to an Individual's Safety,' Report Reveals

Legal firewalls designed to protect Americans from government snooping are no longer a barrier to federal agencies that simply buy what they cannot legally obtain on their own, according to a new report.

What’s known as commercially available information, or CAI in the report, has the effect of replicating -- on a large scale -- intrusive surveillance techniques that were once narrowly used, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“In a way that far fewer Americans seem to understand, and even fewer of them can avoid, CAI includes information on nearly everyone that is of a type and level of sensitivity that historically could have been obtained” by phone taps, hacking or in-person surveillance, the report said, adding that the flood of data anyone can buy, which intelligence agencies do, could “cause harm to an individual’s reputation, emotional well-being, or physical safety.”

“This report reveals what we feared most,” said Sean Vitka, a policy attorney at the nonprofit Demand Progress, according to Wired. “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 said that the lines have been blurred now that much of what Americans think of as private is considered by the intelligence community, referred to as IC in the report, as publicly available information, called PAI, which is bought and sold.

The report warns that “acquisition of persistent location information (and perhaps other detailed information) concerning one person by law enforcement from communications providers is a Fourth Amendment ‘search’ that generally requires probable cause. However, the same type of information on millions of Americans is openly for sale to the general public.”

“As such, IC policies treat the information as PAI and IC elements can purchase it,” the report said, noting how technology has eroded long-time protections against Fourth Amendment violations.

The report noted that commercially available information “can disclose, for example, the detailed movements and associations of individuals and groups, revealing political, religious, travel, and speech activities.”

“CAI could be used, for example, to identify every person who attended a protest or rally based on their smartphone location or ad-tracking records. Civil liberties concerns such as these are examples of how large quantities of nominally ‘public’ information can result in sensitive aggregations,” the report said.

The report noted that the information glut is due to technology few want to live without.

“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,” the report said.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines called for the report at the behest of Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Wired reported.

Wyden said the report indicated that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not appear to know who was buying what kinds of information.

“If the government can buy its way around Fourth Amendment due process, there will be few meaningful limits on government surveillance,” Wyden said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this year, the FBI admitted it bought geolocation data from cell phone advertising before dropping the project, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The nation’s top federal law-enforcement agency now seeks court orders when obtaining phone data from commercial vendors. Such data can often reveal detailed information on the movement and behavior of individuals.

“We do not currently purchase commercial database information that includes location data derived from internet advertising. I understand that we previously -- as in the past -- purchased some such information for a specific national-security pilot project. But that’s not been active for some time,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said during a March Senate hearing.

The FBI worked with a commercial service called Venntel that tracked phone data through advertising, but the agency let that agreement come to a close in 2021.

The Journal also noted in its report that “the use of commercially purchased advertising data for tracking has trickled down from the military to federal, state and local police forces in some cases. Such agencies are increasingly accessing bulk data sets from commercial vendors to acquire information, usually without court authorization."

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

Written by: Jack Davis, The Western Journal



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