Lawmakers warn of 'radical' move by NSA to share information

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A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is expressing alarm at reported changes at the National Security Agency that would allow the intelligence service’s information to be used for policing efforts in the United States.

“If media accounts are true, this radical policy shift by the NSA would be unconstitutional, and dangerous,” Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Blake FarentholdBlake FarentholdHouse leader promises vote on exempting Olympic medals from taxes House panel to vote on exempting Olympic medals from taxes GOP rips into Lynch, who refuses to discuss details in Clinton case MORE (R-Texas) wrote in a letter to the spy agency this week. “The proposed shift in the relationship between our intelligence agencies and the American people should not be done in secret.

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“NSA’s mission has never been, and should never be, domestic policing or domestic spying.”

The NSA has yet to publicly announce the change, but The New York Times reported last month that the administration was poised to expand the agency's ability to share information that it picks up about people’s communications with other intelligence agencies.

The modification would open the door for the NSA to give the FBI and other federal agencies uncensored communications of foreigners and Americans picked up incidentally — but without a warrant — during sweeps.  

Robert Litt, the general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Times that it was finalizing a 21-page draft of procedures to allow the expanded sharing.  

Separately, the Guardian reported earlier this month that the FBI had quietly changed its internal privacy rules to allow direct access to the NSA’s massive storehouse of communication data picked up on Internet service providers and websites.

The revelations unnerved civil liberties advocates, who encouraged lawmakers to demand answers of the spy agency.

“Under a policy like this, information collected by the NSA would be available to a host of federal agencies that may use it to investigate and prosecute domestic crimes,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union. “Making such a change without authorization from Congress or the opportunity for debate would ignore public demands for greater transparency and oversight over intelligence activities.”

In their letter this week, Lieu and Farenthold warned that the NSA’s changes would undermine Congress and unconstitutionally violate people’s privacy rights.   

“The executive branch would be violating the separation of powers by unilaterally transferring warrantless data collected under the NSA’s extraordinary authority to domestic agencies, which do not have such authority,” they wrote.

“Domestic law enforcement agencies — which need a warrant supported by probable cause to search or seize — cannot do an end run around the Fourth Amendment by searching warrantless information collected by the NSA.”