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Groups Ask the NSA to Halt Plans to Weaken Privacy Protections for Americans

More than 30 organizations sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the NSA, urging them to halt reported changes to rules governing how the NSA can share the data it collects through overseas surveillance.

April 7, 2016

Today, more than 30 organ­iz­a­tions, led by Open­TheGov­ern­ment.org, Demand Progress, the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Found­a­tion, and the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, sent a letter to the Director of National Intel­li­gence and the Director of the National Secur­ity Agency, urging them to halt repor­ted changes to the rules govern­ing when and how the NSA can share the data it collects through over­seas surveil­lance.

The NSA collects phone calls, e-mails, and other data over­seas without obtain­ing a warrant, on the grounds that it is target­ing foreign­ers. But because data is often trans­mit­ted or stored over­seas, a large amount of Amer­ic­ans’ data is swept up. Current rules prohibit the NSA from shar­ing Amer­ic­ans’ data with other govern­ment agen­cies unless there is a foreign intel­li­gence need, a threat to public safety, or evid­ence of a crime.

Accord­ing to a recent article in The New York Times (confirmed in a blog post by the General Coun­sel for the Office of the Director of National Intel­li­gence), the Obama admin­is­tra­tion has been quietly work­ing on chan­ging these rules for several years. Reportedly, the new rules will allow the NSA to share its “raw take” with a wide vari­ety of agen­cies – includ­ing any inform­a­tion about Amer­ic­ans, regard­less of whether they are suspec­ted of any wrong­do­ing.

As the letter states:

The secret shift in policy is partic­u­larly troub­ling at a time when Congress and govern­ment over­sight bodies are call­ing for . . . greater privacy protec­tions for U.S. persons affected by these programs. Last year, Congress enacted the USA Free­dom Act to prohibit the U.S. govern­ment’s mass collec­tion of Amer­ic­ans’ phone records. Surely Congress did not intend for the govern­ment to evade this prohib­i­tion through new NSA proced­ures giving law enforce­ment agen­cies easy access to Amer­ic­ans’ phone metadata swept in [by over­seas surveil­lance].                                                                                                      

“The repor­ted changes are danger­ous and unwar­ran­ted,” adds Eliza­beth Goitein, co-director of the Bren­nan Center’s Liberty and National Secur­ity Program. “The NSA already has ample author­ity to share inform­a­tion about Amer­ic­ans if there’s a foreign intel­li­gence need or evid­ence of a crime. What these changes would do is allow broad govern­ment access to inform­a­tion about inno­cent Amer­ic­ans. They would also give the FBI and the DEA a handy way around the warrant require­ment when conduct­ing ordin­ary crim­inal invest­ig­a­tions that have noth­ing to do with foreign intel­li­gence or terror­ism. This would drive a hole through the protec­tions our Consti­tu­tion affords Amer­ic­ans.”

View the full letter to the Director of National Intel­li­gence and the Director of the National Secur­ity Agency.

Read more about the Bren­nan Center’s work on Liberty & National Secur­ity.

For more inform­a­tion or to sched­ule an inter­view, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292–8381 or naren.daniel@nyu.edu.