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Reported Secret CIA Program Sees Pushback: 'It Is Not OK'

Edward Snowden, civil rights advocates slam initiative that reportedly scooped up Americans' info
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2022 6:00 AM CST
Senators: CIA Program Secretly Scooped Up Americans' Data
This April 13, 2016, photo shows the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

(Newser) – Facebook isn't the only entity you might need to worry about when it comes to your personal data. According to two lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the CIA has been secretly scooping up info en masse on Americans, and civil liberties activists aren't happy about it. News of the intel agency's activities came Thursday courtesy of Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich, who in an April 13 letter requested declassification by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board of the bulk surveillance program they say was authorized not by Congress, but by Executive Order 12333, per a release out of Wyden's office.

That executive order—a document "that broadly governs intelligence community activity," per the AP—was first signed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. The CIA's secretive program exists "entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection," noted Wyden and Heinrich's largely redacted letter, which was itself declassified on Thursday. "This basic fact has been kept from the public and from Congress." The senators, longtime critics of the CIA, added in response to their findings, per the release: "These documents reveal serious problems associated with warrantless backdoor searches of Americans."

Wyden and Heinrich, who've long called for more transparency from intelligence agencies, say they can't reveal exactly what info on American citizens has been gathered, and they're now imploring the CIA to offer more details to the public. The Wall Street Journal notes that it's not clear when the surveillance occurred, or even if the program is still operational. Civil liberties groups are reacting to the news as expected, sounding the alarm over citizens' privacy. "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," says Patrick Toomey, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.

One big name in particular is weighing in. "You are about to witness an enormous political debate in which the spy agencies and their apologists on TV tell you this is normal and OK and the CIA doesn't know how many Americans are in the database or even how they got there anyway," Edward Snowden tweeted Thursday in response to the news. "But it is not ok." The CIA, meanwhile, said in a statement that the program is a "[repository] of information about the activities of foreign governments and foreign nationals," and that "in the course of any lawful collection, [the] CIA may incidentally acquire information about Americans who are in contact with foreign nationals." (Read more CIA stories.)

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