The Obama administration has greatly expanded the NSA’s power to share raw intelligence within the US government, as reported by The New York Times. The new rules were signed by the attorney general on January 3rd, putting them into effect less than three weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The NSA collects vast quantities of data, including phone calls, emails, and satellite transmissions, but that data is typically only seen by NSA analysts, and only circulated outside the agency if a particular set of signals is found to be noteworthy. The new rules allow raw data collected under Executive Order 12333 to be shared with any of the 16 US Intelligence agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security. That will allow more analysts to pore through the data — potentially finding more valuable intelligence than NSA analysts could find on their own.
The change also raises unavoidable privacy concerns. While the relevant data is collected overseas, it inevitably includes phone calls, emails, and other messages between US citizens. Without any form of filtering, the raw data includes everything that passed through a given network switch, without any form of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
The new rule bears on all data collected under Executive Order 12333, which many believe to be responsible for the bulk of the NSA’s collection efforts. Issued by President Reagan, the order did not require a congressional vote, and has been subject to only minimal oversight by the legislature. Collection efforts under the order are not subject to court approval, as long as they occur outside the United States.