The NSA is changing how it shares data with other US federal intelligence agencies — like the CIA, FBI and DEA — to include what's called raw signals intelligence, the original data that gets swept up by the NSA's various spying and data collection programs.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (left), Director of the NSA Micheal Rodgers (right), testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Image: Getty
Previously, when the NSA passed data it collected through its secretive, advanced and sometimes illegal methods, an NSA analyst would strip the data that pertained to innocent people, and would only pass on what they deemed necessary. Now, when the NSA shares information with another intelligence agency, it will pass on the raw data, with no redactions. This means that employees and analysts at the 16 other US federal intelligence agencies will now see raw, unfiltered data collected by the NSA.
The New York Times neatly summed up the changes: "Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognise that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people."
Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties national security project, slammed the sharing of raw data between agencies, noting that it's all collected without a warrant.
"Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans," Toomey told the Times. "Seventeen different government agencies shouldn't be rooting through Americans' emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant."
The agency, for its part, argues that this change is "simply widening the aperture for a larger number of analysts, who will be bound by the existing rules". The problem, however, is that every intelligence agency takes different approaches to this kind of data, and there could be unforeseen consequences that stem from handing over data collected from innocent people.
If you feel so inclined, you can check out the newly released 23-page document detailing the changes here.