NSA Buys Americans' Internet Browsing Data Without Warrants

Penka Hristovska
Penka Hristovska Senior Editor
Penka Hristovska Penka Hristovska Senior Editor

The National Security Agency has been purchasing Americans’ internet browsing data from commercial data brokers without warrants, according to the agency’s outgoing director.

Gen. Paul Nakasone, the director of the NSA, communicated the details of the agency’s practices in a letter sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a privacy and internet freedom advocate who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He published this letter on Tuesday.

Nakasone said in the letter that the agency purchases “various types” of information from data brokers “for foreign intelligence, cybersecurity, and authorized mission purposes.’ He acknowledged that some of the data may come from devices “used outside — and in certain cases, inside — the United States.”

“NSA does buy and use commercially available netflow data related to wholly domestic internet communications and internet communications where one side of the communication is a U.S. Internet Protocol address and the other is located abroad,” the letter reads.

On Thursday, Sen. Wyden penned a letter to the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, arguing that “[t]he U.S. government should not be funding and legitimizing a shady industry whose flagrant violations of Americans’ privacy are not just unethical, but illegal.”

He said collecting Americans’ browsing data violates the U.S. Federal Trade Commission standards.

“Such records can identify Americans who are seeking help from a suicide hotline or a hotline for survivors of sexual assault or domestic abuse,” he added.

The NSA defended its practices, saying that the data it collects is of significant value for national security and cybersecurity missions.

“At all stages, NSA takes steps to minimize the collection of U.S. person information, to include application of technical filters,” an NSA spokesperson said in a statement.

The senator delayed the confirmation of Timothy Haugh as the new NSA Director until the agency addressed his inquiries regarding the agency’s collection of Americans’ internet and location data.

About the Author
Penka Hristovska
Penka Hristovska
Senior Editor

About the Author

Penka Hristovska is an editor at SafetyDetectives. She was an editor at several review sites that covered all things technology — including VPNs and password managers — and had previously written on various topics, from online security and gaming to computer hardware. She’s highly interested in the latest developments in the cybersecurity space and enjoys learning about new trends in the tech sector. When she’s not in “research mode,” she’s probably re-watching Lord of The Rings or playing DOTA 2 with her friends.