US Intel Community Buying Swaths of Commercial Data, Replicating Mass Surveillance Program

by | Jun 13, 2023

US Intel Community Buying Swaths of Commercial Data, Replicating Mass Surveillance Program

by | Jun 13, 2023


A report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Friday shows the intelligence community is purchasing massive amounts of Commercially Available Information (CAI) that can “reveal sensitive and intimate information about individuals.”

CAI is data that is available for purchase, often to non-government entities, and is typically labeled as anonymous. However, the ODNI report, dated January 2022, says, “Although CAI may be ‘anonymized,’ it is often possible (using other CAI) to deanonymize and identify individuals, including US persons.”

The CAI poses a significant threat to Americans, as it “can be misused to pry into private lives, ruin reputations and cause emotional distress and threaten the safety of individuals,” the document said. “Even subject to appropriate controls, CAI can increase the power of the government’s ability to peer into private lives to levels that may exceed our constitutional traditions or other social expectations.”

As such information has become more available, intelligence agencies have begun vacuuming up vast amounts of data. While ODNI does not reveal the full scope of the information purchases, it names Accenture, Acxiom, CoreLogic, Epsilon, Intelius, LexisNexis, Oracle (Datalogix), Thomson Reuters and Verisk as major contractors working with the US government.

Senator Ron Wyden said the ODNI did not know which agencies were purchasing CAI. The ODNI report called for the intelligence community to “develop a multi-layered approach to catalog, to the extent feasible, the acquisition and use of CAI across its 18 elements.”

The Wall Street Journal described the swaths of data collected as equally invasive as the government’s existing mass surveillance programs under agencies like the NSA. “CAI has grown in such scale that it has begun to replicate the results of intrusive surveillance techniques once used on a more targeted and limited basis,” the outlet noted. 

Federal agencies have increasingly turned to CAI because it is less regulated than other forms of information collection. The ODNI report admits that stricter rules for the data-harvesting should be used, as CAI can be as sensitive as information collected through a search warrant. “CAI includes information on nearly everyone that is of a type and level of sensitivity that historically could have been obtained, if at all, only through targeted (and predicated) collection,” the report found, adding, “and that could be used to cause harm to an individual’s reputation, emotional well-being or physical safety.”

Wyden said the collection of CAI violates the US Constitution, stating “If the government can buy its way around Fourth Amendment due-process, there will be few meaningful limits on government surveillance.” 

About Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone is news editor of the Libertarian Institute, opinion editor of and co-host of Conflicts of Interest with Will Porter and Connor Freeman.

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