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Note to Congress: Lock Down The NSA's Data


The most compelling cause for worry regarding the data that the NSA is collecting on people’s online activities was that it could end up being used in cases that are strictly outside the scope of anti-terrorism. According to the New York Times, other government agencies are trying to get at the NSA’s vast data stores like little piglets clamoring around a sow. The NSA, in this case and thus far, has reportedly been stingy with access, causing widespread discontent:

“It’s a very common complaint about N.S.A.,” said Timothy H. Edgar, a former senior intelligence official at the White House and at the office of the director of national intelligence. “They collect all this information, but it’s difficult for the other agencies to get access to what they want.”

“The other agencies feel they should be bigger players,” said Mr. Edgar, who heard many of the disputes before leaving government this year to become a visiting fellow at Brown University. “They view the N.S.A. — incorrectly, I think — as this big pot of data that they could go get if they were just able to pry it out of them.”

Every intelligence agency and law enforcement agency in Washington is going to try to get its hands on this stuff. The slippery slope is less about what the NSA collects for anti-terror operations. The slippery slope has to do with how far we open up the gates allowing all sorts of different federal and ultimately state and local agencies access to that data. Some agencies’ claims are at least superficially convincing—the DEA for dangerous drug cartels, for example—but do we really think every DA and IRS agent in the country should be able to access this kind of information?

Now that the cat is out of the bag at least partway, the clamor from various other agencies to get this stuff is going to get louder. Strong tools require much tighter regulations. This is something that Congress needs to start taking a long hard look at.

[NSA headquarters, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

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  • Andrew Allison

    Perhaps a better idea would be to strictly limit the NSA to its mandate, namely FOREIGN intelligence. As the spreading IRS scandal so clearly demonstrates, the government simply can’t be trusted to protect us from rogue agencies.

  • PapayaSF

    How long before we find out that the NSA was snooping on “homegrown threats” like Tea Parties and Republicans?

  • Boritz

    As if congress has any ability to impose accountability. Didn’t watch the IRS hearings?
    Besides, the trouble will come from rogues in the Columbus office or some such place with no orders from on high. If you don’t buy that when it happens just try to prove otherwise.

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