Senator demands answers about Pentagon's warrantless spying on Americans

Posted:
in General Discussion
The U.S. Department of Defense is conducting warrantless surveillance of Americans using commercial data, according to a letter penned by Senator Ron Wyden -- and Wyden wants answers.

Credit: U.S. National Archive
Credit: U.S. National Archive


Back in 2020, a report indicated that the U.S. military had been purchasing location data sourced from popular apps to track the movements of people around the globe. That information was bought from commercial data brokers and tracking firms that Apple and Google later banned.

After that report, Sen. Wyden's office sent a letter to the Pentagon inquiring about the data purchasing practices of U.S. military and intelligence agencies, according to Motherboard. While the Defense Department answered some of Sen. Wyden's questions, several responses were redacted due to containing classified information.

In the letter, the senator urges the Pentagon to release the information to the public. Sen. Wyden and some staffers in his office have the appropriate security clearances to view the data, but none have permission to declassify or reveal the answers.

The U.S. government is barred from directly surveilling Americans without a warrant under the protections of the Fourth Amendment. However, back in January, The New York Times reported on an internal memo that indicated the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency had used commercially available smartphone location data without a warrant in five different investigations.

According to Wyden's office, the DIA had adopted the belief that the rules didn't apply to commercial data that the government purchases. In his letter, Wyden asked which other U.S. agencies followed a similar interpretation of the law. Motherboard reports that the Pentagon's answer to this question is the classified answer that Wyden wants released.

"Information should only be classified if its unauthorized disclosure would cause damage to national security," Sen. Wyden wrote. "The information provided by the DoD in response to my questions does not meet that bar."

Sen. Wyden is currently proposing new legislation that would force some U.S. agencies to obtain a warrant for commercial location or smartphone data.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 9
    "the DIA had adopted the belief that the rules didn't apply to commercial data that the government purchases"

    Scary to imagine how many *other* laws are broken using this exact form of mental gymnastics.
    dysamoriaEsquireCatsOferJaiOh81darkvader
  • Reply 2 of 9
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,538member
    "the DIA had adopted the belief that the rules didn't apply to commercial data that the government purchases"

    Scary to imagine how many *other* laws are broken using this exact form of mental gymnastics.
    Well, the thing is that they are probably correct.  Not many gymnastics required.  If it's commercially available product, they can probably use it.  Whether or not it could be used in a criminal trial is another matter.  I'm not saying I agree with it.

    That being said, the government is prohibited from using a private company to do that which it is not allowed.  Let's say the FBI wants to tap your phone, but doesn't want to get a warrant of any kind. They can't hire Bob's Phone Tapping service to do it for them.  Of course, they get around this by using things like national security letters and the FISA court improperly.  
    williamlondonOfer
  • Reply 3 of 9
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 3,298member
    "the DIA had adopted the belief that the rules didn't apply to commercial data that the government purchases"

    Scary to imagine how many *other* laws are broken using this exact form of mental gymnastics.
    Exactly. That’s basically the logical fallacy of “special pleading”... something the computer industry (a source of much of this commercial data) has been using to defend itself from being treated like any other industry, for decades.
    edited May 14 Oferdarkvader
  • Reply 4 of 9
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,610member
    While I can see this being an issue with my government tracking us U.S. citizens, this seems to be more of a global thing I kind of struggle with this.  If they want to track international members of Hezbollah and ISIS, I would not see a problem with it.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 5 of 9
    genovellegenovelle Posts: 1,176member
    sdw2001 said:
    "the DIA had adopted the belief that the rules didn't apply to commercial data that the government purchases"

    Scary to imagine how many *other* laws are broken using this exact form of mental gymnastics.
    Well, the thing is that they are probably correct.  Not many gymnastics required.  If it's commercially available product, they can probably use it.  Whether or not it could be used in a criminal trial is another matter.  I'm not saying I agree with it.

    That being said, the government is prohibited from using a private company to do that which it is not allowed.  Let's say the FBI wants to tap your phone, but doesn't want to get a warrant of any kind. They can't hire Bob's Phone Tapping service to do it for them.  Of course, they get around this by using things like national security letters and the FISA court improperly.  
    I see it from a different perspective. If the data is commercially available legally and Congress has no problem with that data being openly for sale, then the department charged with keeping us safe from all threats domestic and abroad can use that data. Our enemies are.

    I am not for posting their tactics online and blabbering them on the record in public letters and in the halls of Congress.  It’s one of the reasons we have been hacked so often. They televise everything and even in this case knowledge that the redacted version exist tells our enemies what to look for. We are still fighting a breach that is ongoing and widespread across many government systems. Too much information to digest unless we give them a target to filter through. 
    williamlondonslow n easyFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 6 of 9
    EsquireCatsEsquireCats Posts: 1,165member
    sdw2001 said:
    "the DIA had adopted the belief that the rules didn't apply to commercial data that the government purchases"

    Scary to imagine how many *other* laws are broken using this exact form of mental gymnastics.
    Well, the thing is that they are probably correct.  Not many gymnastics required.  If it's commercially available product, they can probably use it.  Whether or not it could be used in a criminal trial is another matter.  I'm not saying I agree with it.

    That being said, the government is prohibited from using a private company to do that which it is not allowed.  Let's say the FBI wants to tap your phone, but doesn't want to get a warrant of any kind. They can't hire Bob's Phone Tapping service to do it for them.  Of course, they get around this by using things like national security letters and the FISA court improperly.  
    I think you’ve just explained why this is still most likely illegal as it is not specified whether or not the information had to be sourced prior, merely that a warrant is needed when surveilling US citizens. 
    edited May 14 williamlondondarkvader
  • Reply 7 of 9
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,364member
    FTA: "The U.S. government is barred from directly surveilling Americans without a warrant under the protections of the Fourth Amendment."

    Sdw2001: "
    the government is prohibited from using a private company to do that which it is not allowed."

    This seems like a pretty clear-cut example of the DoD breaking a specific law to get around another specific law. Commercial data brokers are private companies. Wyden is barking up the right tree here.
    williamlondondarkvader
  • Reply 8 of 9
    mr lizardmr lizard Posts: 243member
    Always makes me chuckle how Americans fret over Chinese security risks, when their own country spies on them. 

    You’re a funny old country :) 
    williamlondonJaiOh81darkvader
  • Reply 9 of 9
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,471member
    With domestic terrorists having become the leading threat to America we need to increase surveillance rather than curtail it.

    Had intelligence been adequate, like with 911, January 6th would not have happened.   We spend 3/4's of a Trillion a year on Aircraft carriers and F35's but ignore domestic terrorists and leave them free to plot, plan, disrupt, destroy and kill.   It needs to be brought under control.

    While there are those Libertarians who claim all government is inherently, automatically and irreversibly corrupt and incompetent, they would be better off trying to improve things rather than simply tear things down.  
    edited May 15 williamlondon
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