It's Official: Sixteen Government Agencies Now Have Access To Unminimized Domestic NSA Collections

from the Security-Thru-Advanced-Situational-Intelligence dept

The NSA can now be used for second-hand domestic surveillance, thanks to new rules approved by President Obama that went into effect on January 3rd. Those unhappy to see Trump in control of these expanded powers have no one to thank but their outgoing president for this parting gift.

This was first reported early last year, gathered from anonymous intelligence community sources and the now-useless PCLOB’s report on the FBI’s use of unminimized intelligence passed on to it by the NSA. At that point, it was mostly speculation, with the PCLOB’s report being the only thing in the way of factual information. The administration was confirmed to be working towards loosening restrictions on data sharing, even as the FBI was swearing it was tightening up control of its own use of unminimized data.

As the New York Times reports, this change in rules on data-sharing is now in place, as confirmed by a declassified copy of the new procedures [PDF] released to the paper.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The perceived benefit of this relaxation of the rules is this: government agencies will no longer have to worry about being siloed off from possibly relevant info by restrictions on unminimized collections. The downside is, well… everything else.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

There are sixteen(!) government agencies being made equal partners in the NSA’s full-take surveillance programs. Rather than place the agency that hoovers up the signals intelligence in charge of ensuring the privacy of US citizens is protected, the administration is letting multiple agencies with different agendas and rulesets have access to the data first, with any minimization being left up to each agency’s individual policies.

The NSA still retains the option to deny an agency’s request to an unminimized “feed” of incoming collections, but it’s likely denials will be few and far between — what with the Wars on Terror/Drugs still ongoing and showing no signs of wrapping up anytime soon. Anything deemed to be tangentially-related to national security will likely receive the NSA’s blessing… because doing otherwise would be incredibly hypocritical. The “national security” mantra has been deployed to excuse its worst excesses. Far be it from the NSA to deny the national security “needs” of other agencies similarly situated.

This was pretty much confirmed by ODNI’s counsel Bob Litt’s attempt to defuse the situation when it first came to light last spring. His painful editorial at Just Security said this was all no big deal. After all, the new rules didn’t provide for more domestic surveillance than the government was already performing. It just allowed more agencies to look at what was already being collected and do with it what they wanted. SHRUG.

As for the FBI, which has been a longtime partner in the NSA’s surveillance haul, its new internal rules are no longer relevant, seeing as the administration has given its blessing to go ahead and use supposedly foreign-facing intelligence programs for domestic law enforcement activity. While the FBI was supposed to restrict its use of the data haul for counter-terrorist investigations, the FBI was able to turn over anything it found related to normal criminal activity to the DOJ. So, even prior to the official relaxation, the FBI was acting as a conduit between the NSA and other law enforcement agencies.

All of this means the NSA is now officially a domestic surveillance agency, even if a majority of its exploration of Americans’ data/communications is being done by proxy.

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Comments on “It's Official: Sixteen Government Agencies Now Have Access To Unminimized Domestic NSA Collections”

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David says:

None to thank but Obama?

Those unhappy to see Trump in control of these expanded powers have no one to thank but their outgoing president for this parting gift.

Well, considering the inconsistency of his previous civil job, his pre-office agenda and his in-job performance, I speculate that we have a bunch of brain leeches actually to thank for that feed on presidents.

And the rather glaring differences are probably because Obama’s predecessor almost starved them and they had to double down.

And now they have to prepare for hard times again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: None to thank but Obama?

A smooth transition of power…

Let’s count the number of laws passed before Trump gets into office:

  • Expansion of executive authorities to perform special operations in overseas wars
  • Expansion of domestic propaganda authorities
  • Expansion of the procedures regarding surveillance consumption
  • Expansion of the executive authority to negotiate trade legislation without involving the legislature (leaving them only a 30 day window to produce a yes/no vote)
  • Expansion of the legal authority to detain and hold any person deemed a threat to national security without a warrant

The Administration’s PR has highlighted with pride its conciliatory hand-off to the next administration.

– OP

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The majority of what the recent (Bill Clinton onward) Democratic Party leadership (the neoliberal scum that they are) has done, is to only pay lip service to liberal and progressive ideologies while the outcome of their actions were just that much more of a giveaway to their plutocrat/deep state benefactors.

And Obama was a master of those pretty words. He conned me. Twice! I mean, what’s a good progressive supposed to do, vote for a republican!?! – oh my – …because, you know, that’s our only other possible choice – because if you vote for anything other than one of the FAKE two parties you’re “Just Throwing Your Vote Away TM”.

For liberals and progressives, the democratic vs. republican party scam is just a lame game of ‘good cop – bad cop’. Might as well lump it in with all the other wedge issue politics used to divide the electorate and distract them from the systemic governmental/corporate corruption.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“He conned me. Twice!”

You should not feel bad that you got conned twice… you should feel bad that you will keep allowing them to con you for some time to come.

This applies to all American citizens voting in any R or D.

I saw Obama coming and I see Trump coming. I am laughing at that anti-Trump crowd for losing because they refuse to get it, but this is not over with yet. In fact it is my bet that we have at least another couple of Administrations(regardless of party) to get through before anything serious happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Obama will go down in history as one of the worst Presidents ever. Nice legacy. Well done.”

It’s not entirely Obama’s fault; such a big deal was made over his election as the first black president that his impact always going to be far less than the hype implied.

And a lot of obstructionism prevented him from implementing a lot of good reforms (such as actual healthcare for Americans, as other competent first world countries have).

Unfortunately some of the worst elements of his legacy are entirely his own fault, such as lying when he claimed he was being unable to pardon Snowden (or Chelsea Manning for that matter) because Snowden hadn’t been before a court. Obama certainly won’t be remembered kindly by the history books when it comes to these things.

Anonymous Hero says:

Seventeen, not sixteen

“In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.”

Shared with *other* sixteen agencies means all seventeen have it now.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

History, repeat, excuses, hand waving

Given the history of missing bad guys and the blame place upon not sharing intelligence, maybe, just maybe they won’t be able to use that excuse again. Of course, even though the get a hit, and investigate it, they leave that perp on the street so they can strike (eg. Boston Bombers).

Makes one wonder how many actual bad guys have been stopped with all this intelligence, and I don’t mean the ones set up by the FBI in their stings, as many of those appear to be sad characters that never had any intention of doing bad things, until the FBI put them up to it?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Oh man....

Being nutty enough to be anti FCC doesn’t confer any special insight.

This has been discussed on TechDirt before. Back when the Snowden revelations broke. I think most people on TD saw this coming. Who do you think here didn’t see this coming? That is, government collected data gradually gets used for more and more purposes than which it was originally collected for.

Today that data must be collected to fight terrorism! Tomorrow to fight jaywalking! Next year to fight thought crime!

But what happens when a tyrant gets hold that much personal information? Someone who has demonstrated they will take a fight to an extremely petty level to hurt an ex wife or political enemy. How far would such a person go to ruin the lives of individuals who happen to disagree with the dear leader?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Oh man....

It has been my general observation that many folks here believed that Obama would not do such a thing despite clear evidence, in my opinion, to the contrary.

I do accept that your comments that many here did see this coming, but I think you are under playing how many thought that it would be the “other” side that brought it.

I come from the camp where Bush, Obama, Hillary, Trump are not that different from each other. Most come come camps where they believe these people are all night and day.

We will never not have to fight against the over reach of government, which is one of the reasons I am anti-FCC… they are part of that over reach. That said, I could appreciate some regulation, but only if it is restricted to narrow meaning which almost no one is willing to do.

I would rather attend to the inconveniences of too much liberty than too small a degree of it!

Protectors, Tyrants and In Betweens says:

How Else will we catch terrorists?

It’s the duty of the state to protect its people from amorphous terrorism, despite the futility of the task.

Obviously, the only way to do this, is to collect bulk communications and Ctrl+F for stuff to find terrorists, 0days, and spies. Sure, all that information just so happened to get passed onto all other agencies trying to bust drug users, drug dealers, tax evaders, likely surveillance of political dissidents, pedophiles, blackmail and nudes… sure, we’ve yet to see a public piece of the NSA admitting to stopping some terrorist with this technology, but they’d probably lie about it anyway.

To those of you within the Federal Government reading this comment, understand this; many people need your help, and many don’t. What drives you? Ultimate knowledge? Duty? Money? Prestige? Fetish? Why not take a job at a private company? Do you remember your oath? Do you honor it? Do your superiors?

To this day, no (publicly known) CIA employee has seen trial for any of the terrible murders, tortures, blackmails, or worse that have been committed, despite admissions and overwhelming evidence of criminal actions. I think maybe one dude got caught selling weapons to Libyans?

I have evolved my stances over the years. I’m no longer thinking there is no place for surveillance. Other nations will do it to us. We must do it to the. Other nations will spy on our citizens, and we must spy on theirs. However, to what end should this information be used? Do we need to be busting drug dealers? Do we need to be putting people in prison for their use of drugs? Do we need to be disseminating child pornography through federal agencies in order to catch pedophiles? Do we need to have federal agencies disseminating drugs and participating in cartels? We can pretend as if this isn’t happening, but historical precedent and common sense dictates that humans are human. Power is enticing and there’s too much secrecy protecting the truth, the reality of the situation.

What do you say if someone down the line, a decade, two decades, or ten decades seizes this level of power over the planet that is such a moral relativist that truly terrible things happen? This type of surveillance and widespread intentional obsolescence should be done away with if our precedent is to not treat this like it’s National Security. It’s being used more as a way to catch drug dealers and military dominance. As if dominance is the only path to survival and power. It’s one thing to protect people, and another to intentionally make them vulnerable to spite your “enemy”. Some of these agencies are acting illegally, yet nothing really changes. We know other nations will do anything and everything, therefore, we may do anything and everything.

What a pessimistic and unrealistic outlook of humanity we have today.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

NOW can we all stop playing partisan pattycake?

I’m sick and tired of people blaming [$party] for crap like this. It’s fascism and for all the mewling and puking over how “illegitimate” your shiny new president is, the truth is that behind the scenes plots have been afoot to strip us of our rights with the senior members of both parties shaking hands on the deal. No one party is to blame. Anyone foolish enough to get caught up in the partisan pattycake game is a part of the problem.

This reminds me of a joke back home: A man was walking down the street late at night in Belfast, and was accosted by a gang of youths.

“Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?” they asked him.

Terrified, the man replied, “Erm, I’m Jewish!”

“Are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?”

Swap $religion for $party/ideology and you get the same damn thing on your side of the Pond today.

I’m annoyed with Obama for the two-fingered salute he just delivered us. So much for hope and change. Sad to say, t’other lot will be no better.

The only thing we can do is campaign continually to get sunlight on mass surveillance pointing out that all it does is slow down investigations into terrorism instead of actually preventing it, as promised. Write to and call your representatives and protest the ever-living crap out of this. Failing that, enjoy tyranny.

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