Spy office denies allegations that NSA data will be used for policing

Spy office denies allegations that NSA data will be used for policing
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A top lawyer for the nation’s intelligence agencies is pushing back on mounting criticism about new plans to widely share intercepted data throughout the federal government.

Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed that the change in policy is “in the final stages of development and approval,” in a post on national security legal blog Just Security on Wednesday.

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But Litt denied allegations that the change would allow the FBI and other agencies to use the sensitive data for domestic law enforcement matters, which members of Congress had speculated could be unconstitutional.

“There will be no greater access to signals intelligence information for law enforcement purposes than there is today,” Litt claimed in his blog post. “These procedures will only ensure that other elements of the intelligence community will be able to make use of this signals intelligence if it is relevant to their intelligence mission.”

The post follows mounting scrutiny on U.S. intelligence agencies following a New York Times report in February that the administration is in the process of expanding the National Security Agency’s (NSA) ability to share information without first adding privacy protections.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan pair of House lawmakers warned that the potentially “unconstitutional” and “dangerous” move might allow law enforcement agencies like the FBI to use the NSA’s data — which is collected in the course of its foreign intelligence work — for policing matters within the U.S.

“NSA’s mission has never been, and should never be, domestic policing or domestic spying,” Reps. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdFarenthold resigned ahead of ethics ruling against him House Ethics calls on Farenthold to pay back K taxpayer-funded harassment settlement Loss of Ryan hits hard for House Republicans MORE (R-Texas) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wrote.

Fewer federal privacy protections apply when agencies such as the NSA collect information about people believed to be foreigners, who do not enjoy the same rights as Americans. The NSA routinely sweeps of data about people’s Internet browsing and messaging history without using a warrant, which would be illegal for a domestic agency such as the FBI. 

In pushing back against the new concerns, Litt dropped few details about the forthcoming rules governing the NSA’s ability to share data with other agencies.

He wrote that the NSA will be forbidden from giving information to anyone outside the 16-agency federal intelligence community, and that those agencies will need to first “establish a justification” for receiving the information.

The data could only be used for “authorized foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes,” he added, and not for law enforcement purposes.

Finally, other agencies will need to use “the kind of strong protections for privacy and civil liberties, and the kind of oversight, that the National Security Agency currently has.”