The government is making it easier for corporations to tap into data from smartphones, tablets, computers and other devices to collect personal data, a federal watchdog said Thursday.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the NSA is increasingly tapping into the data of billions of Americans as the federal government grapples with a new generation of digital threats and new forms of electronic surveillance.
The IG report said the agencies’ growing ability to tap through vast troves of data is changing how businesses and individuals use and process that data, especially when it comes to protecting personal information.
“Big data” is the term used to describe the vast amount of data stored on digital devices and computers that the NSA, FBI and other federal agencies use to analyze it.
It also refers to the vast amounts of data collected and stored by corporations that are part of the “Big Apple.”
The GAO’s report noted that the agency has begun using an emerging technology called “data mining” to mine massive amounts of information from companies to determine who is targeted in surveillance.
“It is not clear that the government has adequately defined the term ‘big’ data,” the GAO report said.
The agency has identified more than 2,700 organizations that have engaged in “big data mining” since 2013.
The IG report identified the companies as: IBM, IBM Watson, Google, Intel, Amazon, and Facebook.
The GAOs report is the latest to paint a bleak picture of the privacy risks that the growing digital spying industry poses to individuals and companies.
Privacy advocates have been calling for Congress to create a national standard for the government to require companies to collect and store Americans’ private data.
“We are living in a digital world in which privacy is a non-issue,” said Daniel Gentry, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“Big data mining is putting the onus on corporations to make sure they’re complying with the law.”
The federal government says it is not collecting Americans’ data.
But privacy advocates have long complained that the vast number of digital devices in the hands of government employees is eroding privacy protections.
The report also said that the Justice Department has been using “massive amounts of metadata” to track a large swath of the digital communications of Americans.
The Justice Department is not currently required to turn over any data about individuals who are suspected of crimes, but the agency is required to provide the name and address of every individual who is suspected of a crime.
“The Justice Department’s metadata collection practices have resulted in an unprecedented invasion of personal privacy for Americans who are not suspected of criminal wrongdoing,” the report said.
“The data collected under this program is routinely used by the government’s counter-terrorism efforts and intelligence operations to identify terrorists, criminals, and other serious threats to the American people.”