All American Citizens Are Being Openly Observed and Documented by the US

The United States government has secretly collected a “large amount” of “sensitive and intimate information” on American citizens, according to a group of senior advisers who informed Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, over a year ago. The director’s own expert panel released a newly declassified report that describes the scope and size of the government effort to gather data about every detail of Americans’ lives. Haines tasked her advisers with investigating secretive business arrangements between commercial data brokers and US intelligence community members in late 2021.

The report paints a nightmare scenario for privacy advocates. “This report reveals what we feared most,” says Sean Vitka, a policy attorney at the nonprofit Demand Progress. “Intelligence agencies are flouting the law and buying information about Americans that Congress and the Supreme Court have made clear the government should not have.”

With little action by Congress on comprehensive privacy reform, a surveillance state has grown in the legal system’s cracks. Prosecutors pay little respect to domestic surveillance limits and make use of craven interpretations of aging laws to disregard them. As privacy laws grow increasingly frail, opportunities increase to debate whether our digital counterparts have any rights.

“If using a credit card to buy an American’s personal information voids their Fourth Amendment rights, then traditional checks and balances for government surveillance will crumble,” says Ron Wyden, a US senator from Oregon.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) did not comment, and WIRED was unable to contact senior advisory panel members whose names were redacted in the report. Haines released the panel’s report on March 8th, after Wyden pressed her to do so. On Friday, the ODNI declassified the report and made it public amid a legal dispute with the digital rights nonprofit, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“This report makes it clear that the government continues to think it can buy its way out of constitutional protections using taxpayers’ own money,” says Chris Baumohl, a law fellow at EPIC. “Congress must tackle the government’s data broker pipeline this year, before it considers any reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” he said.

The ODNI’s panel of advisers stated that the government’s static view on “publicly available information” threatens public safety. The advisers criticize policies that equate buying information with it being considered “public” and highlight that the commercially sold information about Americans today is “more revealing, available on more people (in bulk), less possible to avoid, and less well understood” than what is traditionally deemed “publicly available.”

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