CIA publishes data collection rules for the internet age

The USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has published its revised rules for collecting, analysing and storing information on American citizens in a mirror to the UK’s recently introduced ‘Snooper’s Charter’.

The guidelines are designed “in a manner that protects the privacy and civil rights of the American people,” CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass told a briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The new rules were released amid continued public discomfort over the government’s surveillance powers, an issue that gained prominence following revelations in 2013 by former government contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency (NSA) secretly collected the communications data of millions of ordinary Americans.

The guidelines were published two days before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office and may be changed by the new administration. Trump has said he favours stronger government surveillance powers, including the monitoring of “certain” mosques in the United States.

The UK also recently updated its rules around government surveillance of internet usage which allowed greater intrusion into the browsing habits of its citizens. The Investigatory Powers Bill dubbed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ was signed into law last year and enables government bodies like the MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to collect vast troves of data from its citizens and also mandates that communications firms are required to store data regarding the customer’s usage of their services.

The CIA is largely barred from collecting information inside the United States or on its citizens but a 1980s presidential order provided for discrete exceptions governed by procedures approved by the CIA director and the attorney general.

Known as the “Attorney General Guidelines,” the original rules over time became a “patchwork of policies and procedures” that failed to keep pace with the development of technology that can store massive amounts of digital data, said Krass.

In 2014, legislation gave US intelligence agencies two years to develop procedures limiting the storage of information on US citizens.

The new procedures, under development for years, were signed on Tuesday by CIA Director John Brennan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

While the 1982 guidelines were made public two years ago, sections were blacked out. The updated procedures were posted in full for the first time on the CIA’s website on Wednesday.

The updated procedures include what the CIA must do when it clandestinely obtains a computer hard drive holding millions of pages of text, hours of videos and thousands of photos containing information on foreigners and US citizens.

Because extensive time and many analysts are required to assess such large volumes of data, the rules regulate the handling of material whose intelligence value cannot be promptly evaluated.

They also regulate how such data can be searched and create strict requirements for dealing with unevaluated electronic communications, which must be destroyed no later than five years after they are first examined.

The rules were unveiled a week after civil liberties groups decried new guidelines approved by the Obama administration expanding the NSA’s ability to share communications intercepts with other US intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

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