Governance & Risk Management , Privacy

Democrat Blocks Biden's NSA Nominee Over Data Controversy

National Security Agency Refusing to Reveal Data Collection Practices, Senator Says
Democrat Blocks Biden's NSA Nominee Over Data Controversy
Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh testifies during his July 12, 2023 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing. (Image: U.S. Congress)

The Biden administration's nominee to lead the National Security Agency is facing new challenges from a senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee over allegations the spying agency is purchasing information on U.S. citizens from data brokers.

See Also: From Metadata Bottlenecks to On-Demand Insights

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he is blocking the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh to serve as director of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command over the Department of Defense's refusal to publicly disclose whether it purchases certain data on Americans from data brokers, including location data and web browsing records.

In a statement submitted Thursday for the Congressional Record, the senator said he had first requested information from DOD in January 2021 on which components purchase personal data on U.S. citizens from data brokers. That request came after he had released a memo from the Defense Intelligence Agency acknowledging it was procuring location data on Americans.

"I asked that the American people simply be provided yes or no answers as to whether the NSA is buying their location data and web browsing records," Wyden said. "Unfortunately, intelligence officials have been unwilling to release even that basic information."

"The American people have a right to know whether the NSA is conducting warrantless domestic surveillance of Americans in a manner that circumvents the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," he added.

The Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees both voted to approve Haugh's nomination in July. Wyden's hold joins a blanket hold on all military promotions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., that has been in place since February. Tuberville objects to a Pentagon policy that offers paid leave and travel reimbursement to troops in need of an abortion.

Haugh currently serves as deputy commander of Cyber Command. If confirmed, he would replace Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, who has led the NSA and Cyber Command since 2018. Both organizations play key roles in maintaining U.S. election security and mitigating ransomware attacks and have provided support to Ukrainian military forces throughout Russia's deadly invasion.

Wyden did not object to Haugh's qualifications while pledging to place a hold on his nomination. The Senate can conduct a procedural vote to overcome the hold, which prevents the fast-tracking of nominations.

Wyden has previously raised concerns about major technology companies selling personal data on U.S. citizens to foreign governments. The senator led a bipartisan group of lawmakers that in 2021 requested insights from Google, Twitter, Verizon, AT&T and online advertising firms and networks about all of the foreign companies to which they have provided data from U.S. users and their devices since 2019 (see: Senators Raise Security Concerns Over Selling Personal Data).

About the Author

Chris Riotta

Chris Riotta

Managing Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Riotta is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president. His reporting has appeared in NBC News, Nextgov/FCW, Newsweek Magazine, The Independent and more.

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