The Central Intelligence Agency has been collecting American’s private data without any oversight or even the minimal legal safeguards that apply to the NSA and FBI, an unconstitutional affront to our civil liberties.
According to a declassified report released by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), the CIA’s surveillance program is reminiscent of the mass surveillance programs conducted by the NSA, though the details released thus far paint a disturbing picture of potential wide-scale violations of people’s privacy.
The CIA program has apparently been conducted outside the statutory reforms and oversight of the intelligence community instituted after revelations by Edward Snowden in 2013. The newly declassified CIA data collection program is carried out in conjunction with Executive Order 12333 and is therefore subject to even less oversight than the woefully under-supervised NSA surveillance programs subject to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The agency said the programs involved “counterterrorism intelligence-related activities” that operated under Executive Order 12333. It also announced that portions of reports on the programs were being declassified.
As per senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico,members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The agency has conducted its own “bulk program” and “has done so outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection.”
The report which was heavily redacted, did not indicate how long, exactly, the surveillance had unfolded, how widespread it had been, or what sort of information was collected and from whom.
From that letter and a PCLOB “Staff Recommendations” document, we know that the CIA collects a vast amount of data, often on U.S. persons, without any clear guidelines about data retention and without substantial oversight of analysts querying information about U.S. citizens. The program seems to exist outside the jurisdiction of either courts or Congress–given that even the Senate Intelligence Committee was left in the dark about this program.
In their letter, Wyden and Heinrich inquire as to the nature of the CIA’s relationship to its “sources,” perhaps a reference to whether the CIA might be getting some of its data from the same place as the NSA—through secretive agreements with private companies. In 2013, it was reported that the CIA paid $10 million a year in order to gain access to AT&T’s call data.
While the CIA is largely prohibited by law from “engaging in domestic spying,” which makes the revelations troubling. As the Wall Street Journal reports, at times intelligence agencies have found ways to circumvent these prohibitions, noting that “some U.S. intelligence programs collect broad streams of internet or telephone data in a way that can scoop up information on Americans.
The nature of the surveillance isn’t fully clear. Yet the language in the redacted letter suggests the program involves nontraditional surveillance, noting data collection is done in “bulk” and uses “backdoor searches of Americans. This implies the spy agency may be “vacuuming up” vast amounts of information “to spy on Americans” and storing it indefinitely.