(Ken Silva, Headline USA) A newly released report from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines confirms that U.S. spy agencies are collecting vast amounts of social media, cell phone and other commercial data—though the full extent to which this is happening still isn’t clear.
“The [intelligence community] currently acquires a significant amount of [commercially available data] for mission-related purposes, including in some cases social media data [REDACTED] and many other types of information,” says the report, which contains redactions.
While giving a general description of intelligence agencies’ use of commercial data, the report lacks specifics. The ODNI said it doesn’t know which federal intelligence agencies are buying Americans’ personal data.
Examples cited in the report include the Defense Intelligence Agency—the Pentagon’s main intelligence agency—having a system that buys geolocation data around the world.
“DIA currently provides funding to another agency that purchases commercially available geolocation metadata aggregated from smartphones,” the report says, before explaining how the DIA separates foreign from American data.
The FBI also has a contract with the online intelligence firm ZeroFox for “social media alerting,” and the U.S. Navy has a contract with Sayari Analytics, Inc. for access to its database, which purportedly “contains tens of thousands of previously-unidentified specific nodes, facilities and key people related to U.S.-sanctioned actors.”
The DHS, meanwhile, has a corporate tool that allows it to analyze companies around the globe and their relationships to various subsidiaries.
Along with being light on details for what data is being bought, the report also doesn’t explain what agencies are doing with the data. The ODNI gave a general description that the data can be used for surveillance purposes, analysis and clandestine operations. The report gives one passing reference to how commercial data can be used for “building and training artificial intelligence models.”
Intelligence officials have been far more forthcoming than the report about their use of private data.
In 2020, Congress formed a temporary commission, the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which talked of the need for the government to have private data to train their AI weapons to combat China.
“What I would like to see is a broad research exemption that would allow the kind of data that is being collected to be used for research with appropriate safety safeguards and privacy concerns and so forth,” said former Google CEO and current military contractor Eric Schmidt, who chaired the commission.
“One of the key things to understand about AI is it needs data. It eats data; it’s how it trains it, how it learns. And the more data, the better.”
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.