On the eve of his exit from office, President Barack Obama has issued a new set of rules governing how the NSA handles the information attained through its extensive international surveillance system. Under these new regulations, the NSA can share the data it collects with other members of the U.S. Intelligence Community. After completing an application, other agencies may gain access to raw intelligence, using this uncensored data as they see fit. The NSA no longer needs to implement privacy protections before sharing information with others, giving more government analysts access to mass-collected data without a warrant.
While government lawyers and spokespeople insist that these new rules will not expand surveillance capabilities, many privacy activists are outraged at this expansion of access to personal information, especially as President-Elect Donald Trump moves into office. Trump has previously stated that he “tend[s] to err on the side of security” as opposed to privacy, and some worry that he will use the data he collects to suppress political competition or undertake acts of personal revenge.
Trump will be inheriting a vast and invasive surveillance apparatus, and, as a man who has demonstrated little regard for societal regulations, there is a substantial risk of him abusing these tools. However, Susan Hennessey, a Brookings fellow who previously worked in the NSA general counsel’s office, said in an interview with The Atlantic that this last-minute restructuring actually makes it difficult to enact subsequently more invasive changes. Regardless, I will certainly be keeping up to date on encryption software for the next four years!