The latest Snowden revelation is that the National Security Agency has built a "Google-like" search engine for its huge database of metadata (some 850 billion records), and shares it with other agencies and our allies in the Five Eyes alliance (Canada, the U.K., New Zealand and Australia).
The new search tool is called ICREACH and is described in an internal NSA presentation as a “large scale expansion of communications metadata shared with [intelligence community] partners.” The presentation indicates that it has been operational since 2007.
New data types being shared include IMEI numbers (a unique identifier on each mobile handset), IMSI (another unique identifier for SIM cards), GPS coordinates, e-mail addresses, and chat handles, among others.
One document describes CRISSCROSS, the predecessor to ICREACH, as having notable success in rendition, the controversial practice of secretly spiriting away terrorism suspects from capture point to prison.
The practice of data sharing is governed by Executive Order 12333 (EO 12333), the 1981 document instituted by President Ronald Reagan as a way to strengthen the power of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Nadia Kayyali, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stated in response to the news, “The more that NSA data is getting filtered to domestic law enforcement, it makes the abuses exponential,” Kayyali said. “We know how important metadata is and we know how revealing it is. If this information is going to DEA and FBI, it means that NSA metadata is significantly affecting actions of domestic law enforcement.”
Recently, former State Department official John Tye stated that he has serious reservations about EO 12333. Tye believes it provides the high potential for vast warrantless data collection that is dismissed as incidental. “12333 is used to target foreigners abroad, and collection happens outside the US," Tye said. "My complaint is not that they’re using it to target Americans, my complaint is that the volume of incidental collection on US persons is unconstitutional.”
That will make an interesting argument if it ever gets before a court that doesn't meet in secret.