CIA secretly collects bulk data about US citizens
Two US Democratic Party Senators accuse the CIA of conducting illegal programs that violate the privacy of US citizens.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is accused by two US Democratic senators of bulk collecting data on US citizens, posing questions about how the CIA searches and handles information.
Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a letter on April 13, 2021, asking CIA Director William J. Burns and US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify released information about the security agency's program that gathered intelligence on American.
According to CNN, the watchdog Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) delivered in 2021 to Congress two reports stating the legality of two CIA programs and the impact these programs have on US citizens' privacy and civil liberties.
Having access to classified information, PCLOB's reports were part of a set of studies assessing intelligence agencies' operations under Executive Order 12333 -- an order issued under former US President Ronald Reagan -- that expanded the data-collecting power of US intelligence agencies.
In their declassified letter, Heinrich and Wyden, claim the reports showed that "the nature and full extent of the CIA's collection was withheld" from the Intelligence Committee. The senators urged that the materials be made public.
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In addition, the Democrats accused the intelligence agency of entirely acting "outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection, and without any of the judicial, congressional or even executive branch oversight that comes with Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) collection.”
For its part, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Thursday that "the CIA has been secretly conducting massive surveillance programs that capture Americans’ private information,” that was conducted “without any court approval, and with few, if any, safeguards imposed by Congress to protect our civil liberties.”
In response, Kristi Scott, the CIA’s privacy and civil liberties officer, defended her agency.
“CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of US persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, in compliance with US law, Executive Order 12333 and our attorney general guidelines,” she claimed in a statement.
“CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods," she added.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden described the accusations as “huge".
“This is the systematic construction of a surveillance state that will dominate the rest of our lives,” he tweeted.
Huge:— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 11, 2022
CIA mass ("bulk") surveillance has been carried out “entirely outside the statutory framework, and without any judicial, congressional or even executive branch oversight. The nature and full extent was withheld even from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence." https://t.co/qF4OowjDku
“People brushing this off with ‘duh’ or ‘I’m not surprised’ should take this seriously: elections are months away. Vote out any politician who defends this in the slightest way,” he added.
A history of violating privacy
It is noteworthy that the US government faced backlash following Snowden's 2013 disclosures accusing the National Security Agency (NSA) of collecting bulk logs of all US phone calls under the Patriot Act.
Similarly, the New York Times reported at that time that the CIA was paying telecommunications company AT&T to analyze its call records under the pretext of surveilling overseas terrorism suspects.
The newspaper revealed that the CIA was gathering records of international money transfers into and out of the US handled by companies like the Western Union using the Patriot Act.
In 2015, the US Congress banned the FBI from collecting telecommunications metadata under the Patriot Act under laws governing domestic activities like FISA.
The US government disclosed in 2017 attorney general guidelines for CIA activities under the executive order that set rules for such surveilling.
However, it is not clear if the intelligence agency has respected the procedures for carrying them out in this regard, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board reported at that time.