The decade's most triggering comedy
A newly declassified report released by a top U.S. spy agency raises chilling concerns that the massive amount of information available to the intelligence community could be misused and undermine constitutional protections.
The report, from a panel gathered by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, focuses on “commercially available information (CAI),” data that is available to the general public. The report warns that an explosion in the volume and sensitivity of CAI is being driven by digital technology advances, including location-tracking and other features of smartphones and advertising-based monetization models used by companies selling goods and services online.
“Today, in a way that far fewer Americans seem to understand, and even fewer of them can avoid, CAI includes information on nearly everyone that is of a type and level of sensitivity that historically could have been obtained, if at all, only through targeted (and predicated) collection, and that could be used to cause harm to an individual’s reputation, emotional well-being, or physical safety,” the report stated.
The report further warns that even though much of the data is “anonymized,” it is often possible to identify the individuals to which the information pertains. Matching up people and their sensitive data can result in serious risk, the report warned.
“Without proper controls, CAI can be misused to cause substantial harm, embarrassment, and inconvenience to U.S. persons,” it stated.
The report noted that “under the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and internal procedures of the intelligence community, CAI is generally less strictly regulated than other forms of information acquired by the IC, principally because it is publicly available.”
But it pointed out that times have changed.
“In our view, however, changes in CAI have considerably undermined the historical policy rationale for treating [publicly available information] categorically as non-sensitive information, that the Intelligence Community can use without significantly affecting the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons,” the report found.
Warning that CAI can be misused, the report states, “In the wrong hands, sensitive insights gained through CAI could facilitate blackmail, stalking, harassment, and public shaming.”
“The government would never have been permitted to compel billions of people to carry location tracking devices on their persons at all times, to log and track most of their social interactions, or to keep flawless records of all their reading habits,” the report stated. “Yet smartphones, connected cars, web tracking technologies, the Internet of Things, and other innovations have had this effect without government participation. While the IC cannot willingly blind itself to this information, it must appreciate how unfettered access to CAI increases its power in ways that may exceed our constitutional traditions or other societal expectations.”