The chairmen of two House committees want federal agencies to explain what they are doing with "billions of data points on hundreds of millions of Americans" acquired from data brokers.
Lawmakers demanded answers from seven agencies that reportedly obtained personal information on millions of Americans from data brokers, potentially sidestepping constitutional protections in an alleged "pervasive" surveillance scheme believed to be widespread across the federal government.
The chairs of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees requested a joint briefing and documents surrounding any contracts with data brokers and companies "that aggregated and provide personal data on Americans.
The letter was sent to the heads of the FBI, the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – all of which the lawmakers charged with having numerous data broker contracts.
"While law enforcement investigations necessitate some searches, improper government acquisition of this data can thwart statutory and constitutional protections designed to protect Americans' due process rights," the letter states. "While comprehensive information on the widespread use of this practice is unavailable, the evidence indicates it is pervasive and that your agencies have contracts with numerous data brokers, who provide detailed information on millions of Americans."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mass.) pointed to specific examples of reported federal use of citizen data in their letter to the agencies, from DHS and ICE accessing a database to look up "billions of data points on hundreds of millions of Americans," to the DOJ working with a large data broker known for assembling "data dossiers" on individuals.
Congress has been probing how federal agencies potentially access citizen data throughout the year following investigative reports and research about the apparent widespread practice of agencies secretly purchasing consumer data.
The letter noted how City University of New York School of Law professor Sarah Lamdan said in a hearing last month that agencies obtaining data acquired through cell phone usage, social media applications and other methods can "turn policing from a suspect-focused search into a constant, intrusive surveillance system."
In addition to documents about data broker contracts, the committee chairs also requested communications related to any legal analysis of the acquisition and use of brokered data in agency work.