Political News

More US agencies getting access to raw NSA intercepts

Posted January 12

— More U.S. intelligence agencies are getting access to raw signals intelligence the National Security Agency collects abroad, raising alarm among privacy advocates who worry about the information being more broadly used and shared across U.S. government agencies.

Intelligence officials and the Justice Department recently finalized the new regulations for sharing phone calls, emails and other online communications swept up abroad by the NSA. The rules were posted online Thursday.

While the NSA might not intentionally target certain U.S. citizens, its bulk collection of foreign communications does sweep up Americans' communications as they routinely bounce across networks overseas, said Elizabeth Goitein at the Brennan Center for Justice.

"In the past there were strict limits on the NSA's dissemination of this data to domestic law enforcement agencies," she said. "The new regulations eviscerate those limits."

Robyn Greene, policy counsel at New America's Open Technology Institute, said that in the past, the 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies could only get the data after the NSA filtered it to remove irrelevant names and personal information. Now, the other agencies, including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and CIA, will be able to peruse the raw information collected by NSA. All the agencies, however, will still be required to abide by existing privacy rules.

"If the FBI wants to get access to the information, it can make a request to the NSA and say it's for a counterintelligence investigation and then the NSA can hand it over — without a warrant," Greene said.

She said the change tracks other post 9/11 reforms aimed at making sure all the agencies are sharing information. Greene said that if the change was going to be made, it was better to do it before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

"Because there is so much uncertainly about how a Trump administration and a Trump-run intelligence community will treat Americans' privacy, it's probably a good thing that if it had to happen, it happened now," she said. "Some of his nominees have been very outspoken advocates for mass surveillance."

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