Senator Ron Wyden, from the state of Oregon, has recently revealed documents that confirm the National Security Agency (NSA) purchases Americans’ internet records, which can potentially give insight into their online activities, such as the websites they visit and the apps they use. In response to this unsettling revelation, the Senator has called on the administration to take action to ensure that intelligence agencies cease buying personal data from Americans that has been obtained illegally by data brokers.
It is Senator Wyden’s firm belief that the U.S. government should not be condoning or supporting an industry that blatantly violates Americans’ privacy, which is not only unethical but also illegal. To address these concerns, he has written a letter to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines, urging the adoption of a policy that mandates intelligence agencies to only purchase data about Americans that meets the standard for legal data sales established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Senator Wyden’s efforts to make this information public has been commendable. He has fought for nearly three years to bring to light the fact that the NSA is purchasing Americans’ internet records. This exposure was achieved after placing a hold on the nomination of Lt. General Timothy Haugh to serve as NSA director. It is essential to note that web browsing records have the potential to reveal sensitive, private information about individuals based on their online activities, such as visiting websites related to mental health resources, resources for survivors of sexual assault or domestic abuse, or visiting a telehealth provider who focuses on birth control or abortion medication.
In his efforts to safeguard the privacy of American citizens, Senator Wyden, who is a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has also unveiled how multiple federal government agencies have purchased and searched Americans’ private records without a warrant, essentially bypassing their Fourth Amendment rights. For instance, in 2021, it was revealed that the Defense Intelligence Agency was purchasing and utilizing location data collected from Americans’ phones.
In light of these concerning revelations, Senator Wyden emphasized the importance of putting an end to the purchase of Americans’ private data that was obtained unlawfully. He has requested the DNI to direct U.S. intelligence agencies to adhere to new rules outlined by the FTC, which require data brokers to inform and obtain consent from Americans before selling their data for national security purposes.
Additionally, Senator Wyden has outlined three crucial actions that he urged the DNI to take to ensure compliance with the FTC’s latest rulings. This includes conducting an inventory of the personal data purchased by the agency about Americans, determining whether each data source meets the standards for legal personal data sales, and promptly purging the data that does not meet the legal standards.
The fact that Senator Wyden has spent seven years investigating the data broker industry makes his insights and recommendations even more compelling. He is not aware of any company that provides a warning to users before collecting their data for sale to government contractors for national security purposes. Finally, Senator Wyden has also provided a link to the letter and the records provided by the NSA and Defense Department to further add transparency to the situation.
It is evident that Senator Ron Wyden is deeply committed to safeguarding the privacy and data rights of American citizens, and his efforts to bring attention to this critical issue are both commendable and necessary for the protection of citizens’ rights and liberties.