US Senator Exposes NSA Purchase of Americans’ Internet Records

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US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has unveiled documents last week substantiating claims that the National Security Agency (NSA) is actively purchasing internet browsing records of American citizens. 

These records, capable of disclosing individuals’ visited websites and app usage, have prompted Senator Wyden to call on the intelligence community to cease acquiring personal data illegally obtained from data brokers. 

The call follows a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) order earlier this month emphasizing the necessity for data brokers to secure informed consent from Americans before selling their data, a directive which the NSA’s actions appear to contradict.

In a letter addressed to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines and dated January 25, Senator Wyden asserted that the US government should refrain from supporting an industry engaged in unethical and illegal breaches of Americans’ privacy. 

Having successfully pushed for public disclosure of the NSA’s internet record acquisitions after a three-year effort, Senator Wyden emphasized the sensitive nature of web browsing records. 

Such data can unveil private information, including visits to websites related to mental health resources, support for survivors of sexual assault or domestic abuse or interactions with telehealth providers specializing in birth control or abortion medication.

In 2021, it was revealed that the Defense Intelligence Agency was acquiring and utilizing location data collected from Americans’ phones. At the time, Wyden also highlighted the legal ambiguity surrounding the data broker industry and intelligence community’s practices, fueled by secrecy and a lack of disclosure to users regarding the sale and sharing of personal data.

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Advocating for adherence to the FTC’s latest regulations, Senator Wyden has now urged the DNI to instruct intelligence agencies to halt the procurement of Americans' private data obtained unlawfully. 

“The US government should not be funding and legitimizing a shady industry whose flagrant violations of Americans’ privacy are not just unethical, but illegal,” Wyden wrote.

“To that end, I request that you adopt a policy that, going forward, IC elements may only purchase data about Americans that meets the standard for legal data sales established by the FTC.”

He further called for a comprehensive inventory of personal data acquired by agencies, an assessment of each data source against FTC standards and the prompt disposal of data failing to meet these criteria. The senator stressed the need for transparency, with any retained data requiring congressional disclosure and public communication.

For further details, refer to the letter and records provided by the NSA and Defense Department.

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