September 21, 2022

Wyden: Government Watchdogs Must Investigate Warrantless Purchases of Americans’ Internet Browsing Data by Federal Agencies

Public Contracts and A Government Whistleblower Indicate U.S. Agencies Are Buying Access to Bulk Internet Records; Warrantless Purchase of Browsing Histories Violates Americans’ Rights

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today requested the inspectors general for the departments of Homeland Security, Defense and Justice to investigate the warrantless purchase and use of American’s web browsing records, based on evidence in public records and from a government whistleblower.

In a letter to three Inspectors General, Wyden revealed that public contracting records and a Defense Department whistleblower provided new details about the extent of federal internet record purchases.  

Although the Defense Department previously refused to provide Wyden with public answers about whether it purchases browsing records, publicly available government contracts show multiple federal agencies have purchased access to internet metadata, including U.S. Cyber Command, the Army, the Navy’s Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The U.S. Secret Service also has contracts with the same data broker, according to public records.

“According to the whistleblower, NCIS is purchasing access to data, which includes netflow records and some communications content, from Team Cymru, a data broker whose data sales I have previously investigated,” Wyden wrote.

Netflow records reveal which servers users connect to, which can often reveal the specific websites they visit. Public records indicate multiple other agencies purchase and use netflow records from the same data broker, Wyden wrote. 

“I request that your offices investigate the warrantless purchase and use of Americans’ internet browsing records by the agencies under your jurisdictions,” Wyden wrote. “Your independent oversight must ensure that the government’s surveillance activities are consistent with the Supreme Court’s Carpenter decision and safeguard Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights.”

Wyden has spent years investigating how government agencies purchase Americans’ private information. His efforts confirmed that the Defense Intelligence Agency, Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies purchased personal data without warrants or court oversight.

Read the full letter here


Press Contact

Keith Chu (Wyden) (202) 224-5244