The slope of government surveillance got a little slippery this week.
The FBI is allowed to directly access the NSA’s massive collection—which can include international email, texts and phone calls—for criminal investigations
The Guardian revealed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had quietly approved changes to rules governing the use of bulk data collected from US tech companies through its so-called PRISM program.
The move essentially eliminates any barrier that previously existed between foreign counterterrorism investigations and domestic criminal investigations. The American Civil Liberties Union summed it up this way:
FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes.”
It’s not the first time NSA data has doubled as domestic law enforcement data. Previous news reports had found that the government was sharing NSA-collected data with the Drug Enforcement Agency. But since the government didn’t want to reveal where the data came from, the DEA was required to conduct what’s known as “parallel construction” where it takes evidence the NSA obtained through classified national security programs and recreates it using domestic law enforcement means in order to hide the original source of the evidence from defense attorneys and the courts.”