Defense Department Is Buying Domestic Internet Metadata From Data Brokers

from the bringing-the-war-back-home-via-bulk-purchases dept

Joseph Cox broke the news for Motherboard late last year: the US military was also making use of location data purchased from data brokers, joining a host of other federal agencies that seemed to feel buying from brokers was an acceptable alternative to respecting the Fourth Amendment.

Of particular interest to the Defense Department was location data generated by apps popular with the world's Muslims, including the Muslim Pro prayer app and Muslim Mingle, a Muslim-centric Tinder. The DoD didn't have much to say in its… um… defense at that time, obviously preferring everyone to assume the focus on Muslim-focused apps was indicative of its good and righteous work fighting terrorist organizations around the world.

Unfortunately, the data came from brokers who also collect plenty of location info from US located app users and there was no information provided by the government that showed the military made an effort to steer clear of acquiring this data.

More confirmation has arrived, via some half-answers, redactions, and "can we talk about this in private?" responses to Senator Ron Wyden's demand for more information from the Defense Department. Once again, it's Joseph Cox and Motherboard bringing us the latest:

The Pentagon is carrying out warrantless surveillance of Americans, according to a new letter written by Senator Ron Wyden and obtained by Motherboard.

Senator Wyden's office asked the Department of Defense (DoD), which includes various military and intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), for detailed information about its data purchasing practices after Motherboard revealed special forces were buying location data. The responses also touched on military or intelligence use of internet browsing and other types of data, and prompted Wyden to demand more answers specifically about warrantless spying on American citizens.

Unfortunately, further details have yet to be released. For the moment, Senator Wyden is indulging the Pentagon's demands for further secrecy. But his letter lets the public know some of what he knows -- even if the Defense Department has refused to make this information public.

"I write to urge you to release to the public information about the Department of Defense's (DoD) warrantless surveillance of Americans," the letter, addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, reads.

The DoD may not have publicly admitted to this surveillance of Americans but Wyden is willing to make that disclosure on its behalf.

According to Wyden staffers, this refers to the DoD's bulk purchases of internet metadata that contain information about US persons' communications. Some of these are wholly domestic conversations. Some involve communications between Americans and people located in other countries. In either case, the DoD appears to be bypassing protections erected to prevent this sort of bulk surveillance. And while components of the Defense Department are in the intelligence business, their adversaries and targets are supposed to be foreigners. Incidental collection is one thing. Buying data in bulk and sifting through it with zero oversight is quite another.

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Filed Under: 4th amendment, data brokers, defense department, dod, metadata, privacy


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  1. identicon
    Pixelation, 20 May 2021 @ 8:18am

    I wonder if...

    Are they buying data produced by Chinese apps?


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