The PJ Tatler

Senate Dem: Obama Plan to Store Metadata with Third Parties Must Be Stopped

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Commerce committee is protesting President Obama’s proposal of entrusting third parties with metadata collected for the National Security Agency, saying it opens up “a whole new range of dangerous privacy and security concerns.”

Obama made the proposal this month during a speech on NSA reforms, though White House officials admitted they were still working out the details of what the third-party involvement would entail.

At a Senate Intelligence committee hearing yesterday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a past chairman of the panel, said “ultimately, the decision rests with Congress – and this senator absolutely opposes contracting out this inherently governmental function.”

“What seems to be lost in this conversation is that every day we face a growing and evolving threat from multiple enemies that could cost American lives. The terrorist threat remains real and ongoing, and the government’s ability to quickly access this data has protected Americans from terrorist attacks,” Rockefeller said. “The hard fact is that our national security interests do not change just because public opinion on an issue fluctuates. The collection and querying of this metadata is not a private sector responsibility. It is fundamentally a government function. I know my colleagues understand.”

The senator continued to say he’s concerned that “any change of our current framework will harm both national security and privacy.”

“While the president has made it clear that he understands our intelligence need for this data, I do not believe we can come up with a better alternative. Here’s why. Practically, we do not have the technical capacity to do so. And certainly, it is impossible to do so without the possibility of massive mistakes or catastrophic privacy violations,” Rockefeller said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of telecommunications companies in this country. They do not want to become agents of the government. They do not want to become the government’s guardians of vast amounts of intelligence data.”

“The telecom providers themselves do not want to do this, and for good reason. Telecom companies do not take an oath – they are neither counter-terrorism agencies nor privacy protection organizations. They are businesses, and they are focused on rewarding their shareholders, not protecting privacy or national security.”

Rockefeller further noted that, as chairman of the Commerce committee, he can attest that telecommunications companies “sometimes make empty promises about consumer protection and transparency.”

“My concerns about private providers retaining this data for national security purposes are only heightened by the advent of the multi-billion dollar data broker industry that mines troves of data – including telephone numbers – which it uses to determine our most personal inclinations. One data broker holds as much as 75,000 different data points about each of us including our health and financial status. That is staggering,” he continued. “Further involving the telecom providers in the extended storage of this data for intelligence purposes would not only make that data subject to discovery in civil lawsuits, but it would also make it more vulnerable to theft by hackers or foreign intelligence organizations. Another powerful reason to be against private companies taking responsibility for an inherently governmental function.”

The senator concluded that “moving this data away from the stringent audits and oversight mechanisms that this committee has worked to put in place makes the data more, not less, vulnerable to abuse.”

“…Making the telecom providers keep the metadata for intelligence purposes, where it will need to be searched, will introduce a whole new range of dangerous privacy and security concerns.  I think going down this path will threaten, not strengthen, our ability to protect this country and the American people from terrorist attack and massive invasions of their privacy.”