In his final few days in office, President Barack Obama has overseen a measure that dramatically expands the power of the National Security Agency (NSA) to share intercepted data with other intelligence agencies.
The new rules put into place by President Obama permit the sharing of data the NSA gathers on private citizens with a number of other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, all before applying the legally required privacy protections or obtaining a warrant. In order to be intercepted legally, communications such as phone calls and emails must cross network switches abroad, so any digital interactions you have with people outside of the United States, or even domestic communications that travel across international switches, are already susceptible to legal NSA surveillance, but now the data gathered can be shared more freely within the law enforcement community.
The intent behind these new measures is to provide a larger base of law enforcement and intelligence officials that can sift through the tremendous amounts of data collected by the NSA, thus reducing the chances that a threat is overlooked by existing NSA methodology. Privacy concerns raised by critics point out that this also dramatically increases the likelihood that government officials will be sifting through the personal communications of innocent Americans.
“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” said Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends, and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”