Congress Fast-Tracks Bill That Would Give DHS Agencies Access To NSA Collections

from the natsec-promiscuity dept

As a parting gift to the incoming president, Barack Obama approved information-sharing rules which gave sixteen federal agencies access to unminimized NSA collections. The whole list of agencies involved in the information sharing can be found at the ODNI's (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) website:

Two independent agencies—the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA);

Eight Department of Defense elements—the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency (NGA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and intelligence elements of the four DoD services; the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

Seven elements of other departments and agencies—the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence; the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis and U.S. Coast Guard Intelligence; the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence; the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

Yes, the collected communications can be masked to protect the identities of US persons, but that call is made on a case-by-case basis by the NSA and there are several government officials with the power to demand unminimized access.

This just isn't enough sharing, apparently. Patrick G. Eddington of CATO reports a new bill is being quickly and quietly pushed through the House to expand this sharing to several more federal agencies.

Introduced on April 26 by Rep. John Katko (R-NY), the “Improving Fusion Centers’ Access to Information Act” (HR 2169) is designed to plug any “information gaps” in state “fusion centers” by modifying the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to require DHS to

identify Federal databases and datasets, including databases and datasets used, operated, or managed by Department components, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of the Treasury, that are appropriate, in accordance with Federal laws and policies, to address any gaps identified pursuant to paragraph (2), for inclusion in the information sharing environment and coordinate with the appropriate Federal agency to deploy or access such databases and datasets;

The DHS is already on the list of agencies with access to NSA collections. This bill would allow it to give underling agencies access to the same info. Some notable three-letter agencies on that list include CBP, ICE, and TSA. While the NSA's collections are supposed to serve a national security purpose, the FBI uses its access for standard criminal investigations. There's no reason to believe these agencies won't do the same.

But the bill has friends everywhere in the House. The bill was passed after 40 minutes of debate, thanks to a suspension of normal voting rules. The normal concerns for national security were voiced, but nothing was said of the NSA collection's routine use in routine, domestic criminal investigations. That Congress considers expanded information sharing with domestic security agencies "non-controversial" (hence the sped-up voting process) is an indication of the majority's view of the privacy/security balancing act.

Worse, if the bill becomes law, the worst, most ineffective parts of the DHS will be given access to data and communications gathered by the NSA. Fusion centers -- which are already known for being mostly useless, when not actively doing damage to Constitutional rights -- will have even more information to misuse. The bill would give bicycles to fish in all 50 states. The only thing guaranteed is the new powers will be used badly. Eddington quotes from a 2012 report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which found DHS Fusion Centers to be expensive, useless, and a harm to the public.

The Department of Homeland Security estimated that it had spent somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion in public funds to support state and local fusion centers since 2003, broad estimates that differ by over $1 billion.

The investigation found that DHS intelligence officers assigned to state and local fusion centers produced intelligence of “uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”

This is where the NSA's collections will ultimately end up: in the hands of DHS branch offices that do little more than repeatedly screw up. Only now, they'll be able to do significantly more harm to Americans' civil liberties. Add to that the routine clusterfuck that is the CBP, ICE, and TSA, and you have a recipe for massive Fourth Amendment violations under the pretense of national security.

Filed Under: congress, data sharing, dhs, nsa, surveillance

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  1. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 30 May 2017 @ 10:33pm

    Apparently this still needs to be said regularly

    We build a civilization from the people we have, not the people we wish we had.

    Ours are pretty much the same kind of people all other nations have to work with. That people don't vote their consciences, or cannot fathom their own best interests are failures of a system that didn't take them into account.

    Give the US Constitution a break: It was an early attempt at Western democracy. And it's just very difficult to start over again, especially when everyone who has power wants to keep it for themselves.

    It may mean we have to break it to fix it, or at least reach a crisis critical enough. I thought Bush was that crisis when he lead us into a war on false pretenses, used mercenaries to commit war crimes and institutionalized extrajudicial detention and torture.

    But apparently that wasn't bad enough. So now we have Trump.

    I bet he's not bad enough either. Not bad enough for us to unify and force change under threat of mass revolt.

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