US Intelligence Agencies Are Buying Citizens' Personal Data
On Monday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report providing new information on how U.S. intelligence agencies have taken advantage of the commercial availability of data on American citizens. The partially declassified report, dated January 2022, has a redacted author and highlights the dangers posed to Americans due to excessive reliance on commercially available information (CAI).
By the U.S. government’s own admission, the data it purchases “clearly provides intelligence value” but also “raises significant issues related to privacy and civil liberties.” The report also makes clear that the data could be used to identify individuals, and that “In the wrong hands, sensitive insights gained through CAI could facilitate blackmail, stalking, harassment, and public shaming.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) declassified and released the January 2022-dated report on Friday, following a request by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to disclose how the intelligence community uses commercially available data.
This kind of data is generated from internet-connected devices and made available by data brokers for purchase. The data can be gained through a variety of methods, such as phone apps and vehicles that collect granular location data, along with web browsing data.
In response to the report, Senator Wyden emphasized the need for legislative action, stating, "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."
The declassified report is the U.S. government’s first public disclosure covering the risks of commercially available data of Americans. These datasets can be purchased by anyone, including hostile nations. This is because the United States does not have a privacy or data protection law that regulates the sharing or selling of Americans’ data.
The report highlights that data brokers such as Thomson Reuters CLEAR, LexisNexis, and Exactis openly promote the availability of commercially accessible data. These brokers advertise billions of data points and records obtained from a range of sources, as indicated on their websites. This data can be obtained from cookies stored in web browsers and individual mobile apps that have permission to access location data or other relevant information.