Mr. Obama, Stop the Privatization of U.S. Intelligence!
Why the U.S. Congress must not turn a fundamental government responsibility over to the private sector.
By The Globalist, January 30, 2014
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller’s statement to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Hearing on Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States, on January 29, 2014. For the full statement, click here.
The President announced that Section 215 telephony metadata should no longer be stored by the government, and he asked the Director of National Intelligence to work with the Attorney General to come up with alternate options.
The collection and querying of this metadata is not a private sector responsibility. It is fundamentally a government function.
- There are hundreds and hundreds of telecommunications companies in the United States.
- Telecommunications companies in the U.S. do not want to become agents of the government.
- Congress cannot tolerate private companies taking responsibility for an inherently governmental function.
- Target’s recent loss of consumers’ data does not reassure anyone about the protection of Americans’ privacy.
- The telecom providers want no part of overseeing this data. This is not a foundation for a good partnership.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee titled, “Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States”, Senator Jay Rockefeller, senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who served as chairman from 2007-2009 and vice chairman from 2003-2007, and is the current Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today spoke out against the President’s proposal to change the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance data collection program and contract the storage of telephony metadata to private telecommunications companies.
Full text of Rockefeller’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is below.
Senate Select Intelligence Committee Hearing on Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States
January 29, 2014
The President announced that Section 215 telephony metadata should no longer be stored by the government, and he asked the Director of National Intelligence to work with the Attorney General to come up with alternate options. Ultimately, the decision rests with Congress – and this Senator absolutely opposes contracting out this inherently governmental function.
What seems to be lost in this conversation is that every day we face a growing and evolving threat from multiple enemies that could cost American lives. The terrorist threat remains real and ongoing, and the government’s ability to quickly access this data has protected Americans from terrorist attacks.
The hard fact is that our national security interests do not change just because public opinion on an issue fluctuates. The collection and querying of this metadata is not a private sector responsibility. It is fundamentally a government function. I know my colleagues understand.
I am concerned any change of our current framework will harm both national security and privacy. While the President has made it clear that he understands our intelligence need for this data, I do not believe we can come up with a better alternative. Here’s why. Practically, we do not have the technical capacity to do so. And certainly, it is impossible to do so without the possibility of massive mistakes or catastrophic privacy violations.
There are hundreds and hundreds of telecommunications companies in this country. They do not want to become agents of the government. They do not want to become the government’s guardians of vast amounts of intelligence data.
The telecom providers themselves do not want to do this, and for good reason. Telecom companies do not take an oath – they are neither counter-terrorism agencies nor privacy protection organizations. They are businesses, and they are focused on rewarding their shareholders, not protecting privacy or national security.
I have served on the Commerce Committee for thirty years and know that telephone companies sometimes make empty promises about consumer protection and transparency. Corporations core profit motives can, and sometimes have, trumped their holding to their own public commitments.
My concerns about private providers retaining this data for national security purposes are only heightened by the advent of the multi-billion dollar data broker industry that mines troves of data – including telephone numbers – which it uses to determine our most personal inclinations. One data broker holds as much as 75,000 different data points about each of us including our health and financial status. That is staggering.
Further involving the telecom providers in the extended storage of this data for intelligence purposes would not only make that data subject to discovery in civil lawsuits, but it would also make it more vulnerable to theft by hackers or foreign intelligence organizations. Another powerful reason to be against private companies taking responsibility for an inherently governmental function.
Additionally, Target’s recent loss of 110 million American consumers’ personal information to hackers does not reassure me that moving this sensitive data to the private sector for intelligence purposes would adequately protect consumers’ privacy.
Moving this data away from the stringent audits and oversight mechanisms that this committee has worked to put in place makes the data more, not less, vulnerable to abuse. I want to reiterate, the telecom providers want no part of it. This is not a foundation for a good partnership.
In fact, for context, under the existing system there are only 22 supervisors and 35 intelligence analysts who work specifically in the Intelligence Directorate. They work in an extremely controlled environment with anonymized data. Their queries are subject to multiple overlapping checks, audits and inspections. Keep in mind these queries involve only anonymous numbers – no name, no content, and no location. Unlike many private companies, no one is listening to your private conversation or reading your email.
The data is highly secure, and the queries of that data are conducted only by highly trained professionals.
Last year this Committee worked to significantly strengthen 215 oversight, with the adoption of 20 major reforms. Making the telecom providers keep the metadata for intelligence purposes, where it will need to be searched, will introduce a whole new range of dangerous privacy and security concerns. I think going down this path will threaten, not strengthen, our ability to protect this country and the American people from terrorist attack and massive invasions of their privacy.
I have used my time, but look forward to following up with some questions on this topic in the second round.
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(top image via DonkeyHotey)