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August 16, 2022

Thompson & Nadler Send Letter Requesting Information on Government Purchase of Americans’ Private Data

(WASHINGTON) – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) sent a letter to Attorney General Garland of the Department of Justice, Secretary Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security, Director Wray of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Commissioner Magnus of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Acting Director Johnson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Administrator Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Director Dettelbach of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, requesting information regarding their agencies’ purchasing of Americans’ data from private companies.
On July 19, 2022, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on government acquisition and use of Americans’ private information, entitled “Digital Dragnets: Examining the Government’s Access to Your Personal Data.” During questioning, witnesses testified that federal agencies frequently circumvent warrant requirements by purchasing data sets from companies participating in the data market. These sources can range from original sources, like social media companies and app developers, to companies that package data for sale, known as data brokers. 
These data sets—collected, packaged, and sold by private companies—have far ranging uses from benign microtargeting, to invasive digital profiles, to real-time location tracking. Investigative reporting also shows that federal law enforcement agencies purchase and use these data sets to acquire information about subjects’ movements that would otherwise be unavailable without a court order. While all agency recipients have been reported to contract with data brokers, precise information regarding both the information available, as well as the frequency and nature of agency use is unknown. The House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees seek greater clarity on the agency practice of purchasing commercial data to sidestep legal protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Rather than focusing on particular suspects, data policing tools are dragnets, sifting through all of our data,” the Chairs wrote, “Recent investigative reports indicate that many law enforcement agencies—including yours—have purchased data or licenses through relationships with data brokers, instead of obtaining it through statutory authorities, court order, or legal process.”
Full text of the letter can be found

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Press Contact

Adam Comis (Homeland Security), 202-225-9978

Dan Rubin (Judiciary), 202-225-3951