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.