Privacy Alarm: Newly declassified report confirms U.S. agencies buying Americans' personal data
The report was completed by January 2022 and was classified before being requested by Democrat Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
A newly declassified report confirms U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been buying up personal data on American citizens, raising bipartisan alarm about privacy and civil liberties.
The report compiled by a panel advising the Director of National Intelligence was completed back in January 2022 but was classified before being requested to be made public this month by Democrat Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
The report details how U.S. agencies have been buying massive datasets on Americans. The Internal Revenue Service purchased access to a database that stored the location data of millions of Americans’ phones to try to catch tax cheats, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Similar phone location data was obtained and used by Homeland Security for immigration purposes.
You can read the full report here:
“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” by other intelligence gathering capabilities, such as search warrants, wiretaps and surveillance, the report stated.
Wyden put out a statement after the information was declassified, stating that the government has failed to protect the privacy rights of Americans.
"This review shows the government's existing policies have failed to provide essential safeguards for Americans' privacy, or oversight of how agencies buy and use personal data," Wyden said. “According to this report, the ODNI does not even know which federal intelligence agencies are buying Americans' personal data.”
The report confirmed that “the detailed movements and associations of individuals and groups, revealing political, religious, travel, and speech activities,” could be used to “identify every person who attended a protest or rally based on their smartphone location or ad-tracking records.”
“In the wrong hands, sensitive insights gained through [commercially available information] could facilitate blackmail, stalking, harassment, and public shaming,” the report states.
GOP Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis said in a statement that it was unacceptable for the federal government to be finding loopholes to spy on citizens.
"The federal government should not be in the business of finding loopholes in the Constitution to spy on the people of Wyoming," Lummis wrote on Twitter. "Not now, not ever."
Wyden called for legislation to prevent agencies from continuing to collect personal data of Americans without legal cause.
“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," he said in a statement.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said the "panel prepared a thorough report, along with key recommendations, which we are now considering and working to implement" and that the entire project is designed to create greater transparency.
“I believe the public should have some sense of the policies and procedures that govern our activities in protecting national security and civil liberties and privacy," she added. "Consistent with this, when asked by Senator Wyden to review for classification purposes this report and release whatever is unclassified, I readily agreed to do so. Moreover, as I have indicated previously, once we finalize our framework for dealing with such information based on the panel’s recommendations, we will make as much of it publicly available as possible."