The CIA Has Been Secretly Stealing Our Data For Years. Will People Care?

Since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, most Americans have grown accustomed to the knowledge that their internet, banking, commerce, and cellular activity are not private.

While there have been some eyebrow-raising moments, particularly after former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked intelligence secrets in 2013, few particularly care about the information the federal government and private corporations collects on them.

Earlier this month, Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich authored a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines expressing their concerns over the recent discovery that the CIA has been secretly and illegally engaging in a 40-year-long mass surveillance of U.S. citizens and residents, “entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection, and without any of the judicial, congressional or even executive branch oversight that comes from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act collection.”

Their heavily redacted letter asserts:

“The CIA’s bulk collection program operates outside of laws passed and reformed by Congress, but under the authority of Executive Order 12333, the document that broadly governs intelligence community activity and was first signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.”

They add:

“FISA gets all the attention because of the periodic congressional reauthorizations and the release of DOJ, ODNI and FISA Court documents. But what these documents demonstrate is that many of the same concerns that Americans have about their privacy and civil liberties also apply to how the CIA collects and handles information under executive order and outside the FISA law. In particular, these documents reveal serious problems associated with warrantless backdoor searches of Americans, the same issue that has generated bipartisan concern in the FISA context.

“It is critical that Congress not legislate without awareness of a…CIA program, and that the American public not be misled into believe that the reforms in any reauthorization legislation fully cover the IC’s collection of their records.”

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Patrick Toomey (not the Pennsylvania senator) stated:

“These reports raise serious questions about the kinds of information the CIA is vacuuming up in bulk and how the agency exploits that information to spy on Americans. The CIA conducts these sweeping surveillance activities without any court approval, and with few, if any, safeguards imposed by Congress.”

Edward Snowden tweeted in response:

The year Snowden came forward with his knowledge of bulk data collection, Sen. Wyden pressed then-national intelligence director James Clapper if the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”

Clappers response: “No. Not wittingly.”

He later apologized, stating his response was “clearly erroneous.”

Whether or not Americans care about their personal information being gathered legally or illegally, this raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns.

The question is, will people care enough to protect their right to privacy, or will they simply continue surrendering it incrementally until privacy is a thing of an idyllic, by-gone era?

Image credit: Lianhao Qu via Unsplash

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.