Senator Wyden Reflects on 9/11's Legacy: Mass Surveillance


"After 9/11, I took the threat of terrorism seriously, still do," U.S. Senator Ron Wyden tells Fast Company. "But also I was concerned about how the new surveillance authorities might be abused..."

From Fast Company's report: After the 9/11 attacks, one big concern was connecting the dots. Failing to do so was why we missed the warning signs of the attacks and how we would prevent the next ones, the thinking went. One solution, according to the Pentagon, was a project to gather as much data as possible, to look for signs of future bad behavior. It was called Total Information Awareness... Since the 1970s, Congress has been charged with preventing further abuse of the government's surveillance powers, particularly when it comes to spying on Americans. And few in Congress have questioned these powers as vigorously as Sen. Ron Wyden...

Sen. Wyden: Total Information Awareness was an ominous sounding idea to put together as much data on Americans as possible, and when used with what was then so-called predictive technology, identify who to watch as a way to stop terrorism. In the fight in Congress, here's the lesson that goes to the concerns we had 20 years ago: Total Information Awareness made it clear that the threat is not just surveillance through the aggressive collection, amalgamating, and mining of information through existing authorities. The bigger problem now is the amount of data on Americans that's available commercially or on social media... the threat to people's privacy is just as great. And the job of getting people's attention is still very, very challenging...

This is a national security issue: The personal data of Americans that the data brokers are selling is a gold mine for foreign intelligence services who can exploit it, to target supercharged hacking, blackmail, and influence campaigns. So I'm leading an effort right now that encompasses the biggest online advertising companies, to ask if they're sharing Americans' web browsing and location data with foreign companies.