NSA’s Controversial Data Collection: Buying Americans’ Browsing Records Without Court Approval

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has confirmed its acquisition of internet browsing data from data brokers to identify websites and applications used by Americans, circumventing the need for judicial authorization. This was stated by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden.

Wyden criticizes this practice, highlighting its unethical and illegal nature: “The U.S. government should not be funding and legitimizing a shady industry whose flagrant violations of Americans’ privacy are not just unethical, but illegal.” He urges steps to ensure intelligence agencies legally acquire data about U.S. citizens.

The NSA has assured that it has developed compliance mechanisms and strives to minimize the collection of data about U.S. citizens, acquiring only data necessary for critical tasks.

It is also reported that the NSA does not purchase or use location data from phones in the U.S. without a court order and does not use location information from automotive telematics systems.

Ronald S. Moultrie, Deputy Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, emphasizes that Department of Defense components use commercially available information while adhering to high standards of privacy protection and civil liberties.

These revelations follow the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) prohibition against companies Outlogic and InMarket Media from selling precise location information without informed user consent. Outlogic is also forbidden from collecting data that can be used to track visits to sensitive locations.

Senator Wyden notes that the purchase of sensitive data exists in a legal gray area, and consumers are often unaware of who is sharing their data.

Wyden particularly focuses on the fact that applications with SDKs from these data brokers and advertising technologies do not notify users about the sale and transfer of location data, whether for advertising or national security purposes.

Wyden underscores that the FTC requires explicit user consent for the sale of their data to government contractors for national security purposes, but in reality, no company provides such warnings.