"Commercially available data" allows surveillance of a target without regulatory approval.
A report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) confirmed that the US government is secretly buying vast amounts of Americans' personal data.
This is the first public disclosure that the government is using "commercially available information" (CAI) obtained from network-connected devices and made available by data intermediaries for sale. Such data clearly has value to US intelligence, but also raises privacy and civil liberties concerns, according to the ODNI.
ODNI warns that if the US government can buy the data, so can America's adversaries. In addition, the data can be used against the citizens themselves. In theory, information can be gathered even without a search warrant or eavesdropping. According to the report, CAI data can be anonymized, it is possible (using another CAI) to deanonymize and identify individuals, including US citizens.
“CAI information can be used to invade privacy, destroy reputation, cause emotional discomfort and threaten the safety of individuals. Even when subjected to appropriate controls, CAI can increase the government's ability to intervene in private life to a level that exceeds all public expectations,” the report says.
The report was prepared in January 2022 and released in June 2023 at the request of Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. He criticized the lack of control over how data is obtained and used.
“The director of national intelligence has confirmed that the government is buying a huge amount of Americans' personal data. The lack of restrictions on the collection of information by the government should be of concern to any user of a smartphone or computer,” Wyden said.
The US does not have a privacy or data protection law governing the sharing or sale of Americans' private data. US media reported that authorities could identify any website the target visited, any tweet liked by the target, location, and even credit card purchases.