Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has recently brought to light documents confirming allegations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is actively procuring internet browsing records of American citizens.

By Sharique

These records, which have the potential to reveal individuals’ visited websites and app usage, have spurred Senator Wyden to urge the intelligence community to halt the acquisition of unlawfully obtained personal data from data brokers.

This call comes in the wake of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) order earlier this month, emphasizing the importance of data brokers obtaining informed consent from Americans before selling their data, a directive seemingly violated by the NSA’s actions.

In a letter dated January 25 and addressed to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines, Senator Wyden asserted that the US government should refrain from supporting an industry involved in unethical and illegal breaches of Americans’ privacy.

Having successfully pushed for the public disclosure of the NSA’s internet record acquisitions after a three-year effort, Senator Wyden underscored the sensitive nature of web browsing records. Such data can unveil private information, including visits to websites related to mental health resources, support for survivors of sexual assault or domestic abuse, or interactions with telehealth providers specializing in birth control or abortion medication.

In 2021, it came to light that the Defense Intelligence Agency was procuring and utilizing location data collected from Americans’ phones. At that time, Wyden also highlighted the legal ambiguity surrounding the data broker industry and intelligence community’s practices, driven by secrecy and a lack of disclosure to users regarding the sale and sharing of personal data.

Advocating for compliance with the FTC’s latest regulations, Senator Wyden has urged the DNI to direct intelligence agencies to cease the procurement of Americans’ private data obtained unlawfully.

“The US government should not be funding and legitimizing a shady industry whose flagrant violations of Americans’ privacy are not just unethical, but illegal,” Wyden emphasized.

To this end, he has requested the adoption of a policy ensuring that intelligence community elements may only purchase data about Americans that meets the standard for legal data sales established by the FTC.

Furthermore, Senator Wyden called for a thorough inventory of personal data acquired by agencies, an evaluation of each data source against FTC standards, and the prompt disposal of data failing to meet these criteria. He stressed the importance of transparency, with any retained data requiring congressional disclosure and public communication.

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