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

Today, more than 30 organizations, led by, 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:


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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.

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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

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