Senate panel sets deadline for NSA database deal

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is pushing the National Security Agency to further open its databases of raw signals intelligence to a wider audience within the intelligence community. But the effort comes at a time when Congress, courts and the privacy community are closely scrutinizing the legality of the agency's surveillance activities.

The committee ordered the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency to arrive at an agreement by the end of August to extend access to NSA's databases to more DIA analysts.

"If the [memorandum of agreement] is not finished by this deadline, the committee will seek stronger measures in conference with the House on the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2007 to ensure timely completion," according to comments filed in a report with the committee's late May approval of the fiscal 2007 intelligence authorization bill.

Panel Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in the report that the committee is concerned that the intelligence community is not sharing enough raw information throughout its branches. The idea behind sharing such unprocessed information is that various branches of the intelligence community may be looking for specific information relevant to their investigations, according to the committee report.

The agreement on terms of access to the NSA databases should serve as a model for the terms of access to NSA and DIA databases for the wider intelligence community, said the committee report.

To better enable information sharing, the committee has inserted a provision in the bill establishing a pilot program that would exempt the intelligence community from privacy law -- if the information is relevant to "a lawful and authorized" foreign intelligence or counterintelligence program.

Additionally, the nation's intelligence director would have to authorize such sharing. The Privacy Act is a 1974 law mandating that government departments tell citizens what information they are collecting about them. It also says the information can be used only for stated purposes. The law contains exemptions for law enforcement, but not for the intelligence community.

Privacy advocates have expressed concern about these and other recommendations made by the Senate intelligence committee's fiscal 2007 authorization bill because they have not been publicly debated. The Center for National Security Studies has asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to hold public hearings on parts of the bill.

"The question is: What are the general rules here about the NSA sharing information about Americans' communications with other agencies?" said Kate Martin, director of the center. "That has been something that has been public in the past, and should be public now."

The provision exempting the intelligence community from the Privacy Act would allow the Defense Department to access FBI databases, Martin noted. Such access amounts to activity that current privacy law was meant to check, she said.

"What this is eliminating is one of the few existing legal protections against Total Information Awareness," she said, referring to a doomed Pentagon database citizen surveillance project that Congress nixed on a few years ago.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.