Privacy Advocates Blast Plan to Expand NSA Data Sharing

The Obama administration plans to increase the amount of private communications the National Security Agency can share with other government agencies without first adding privacy protections, according to a report published last week in The New York Times.

The plan would ease restrictions on the amount of intercepted email and telephone intelligence the NSA gathers, including bulk collection of satellite communications, phone data between foreigners, and messages from overseas that U.S. allies provide, according to the report, which cited unnamed officials familiar with the deliberations.

The move represents a major expansion of surveillance and data sharing authority and has been a longstanding concern of privacy groups, according to Marc Rotenberg, president of theElectronic Privacy Information Center.

“There are significant privacy implications that EPIC will examine in detail,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The data subject to the expansion includes system-of-record notices, such as individuals of interest in foreign intelligence or counterintelligence activity.

Past Expansion Attempts

EPIC opposed the NSA’s attempt last year to expand the use of operations records, which include names, Social Security numbers, email addresses, phone numbers and other publicly available information. The expanded use would allow this information to be shared with law enforcement and other intelligence agencies.

“Given the massive expansion of the NSA’s spying efforts over the past decade, now is not the time to jettison the very rules that are supposed to protect Americans from misuse of their private information,” said Patrick Toomey, an attorney for theACLU.

“The government claims this surveillance is directed at foreigners, but it actually vacuums up vast quantities of Americans’ communications as well,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The NSA should not be warrantlessly spying on Americans in the first place, yet it now wants the ability to share all that raw data more widely,” Toomey added.

The disclosures came at a sensitive time for the intelligence community. The administration has come under increasing pressure to get ahead of intelligence estimates in light of last year’s attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris.

Apple Won’t Share

The FBI is demanding that Apple create code that would let the agency access the encrypted data on the iPhone of one of the suspects in the San Bernardino shootings.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly opposed the demand and is fighting a court order, arguing that allowing the government to force a private technology company to compromise the security of one of its products would open the door for additional requests in future cases.

Such a request could open Apple up to similar demands from governments around the world.

Over the weekend, rival technology firms agreed to join Apple in its fight against the Obama administration.

The U.S. is facing increased threats from overseas in both the virtual and physical worlds, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told theHouse Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

A major U.S network equipment maker has acknowledged that someone repeatedly gained access to its source code to make its default products encryption unbreakable, he testified. The intruders also introduced a default password that would give them undetectable access to some of the target networks worldwide.

Clapper did not name the manufacturer.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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