Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With
Many U.S. federal agencies are purchasing private market data (PMD). Some will assume these practices illustrate a federal government run amok, intent on trampling Americans’ constitutionally-protected rights under the guise of “national security.” Others will view cries of “tyranny!” and warnings about the “deep state” as nothing more than naivete about the realities of a dangerous world or fearmongering for political advantage. But the issue is more complicated and there is another side of the story. Government access to PMD does implicate liberty concerns, but it also implicates security issues that require serious consideration if this constitutionally-induced tension is to be properly balanced. This paper argues that U.S. government access to at least some private market data—and the limiting of foreign access to this same information—is essential for national security. It also argues, however, for a refined awareness that acknowledges the privacy we have already lost and that implements greater government oversight and accountability. It must also be said that this paper provokes more questions than it answers. It does not exhaustively assess or explain many of the relevant facts, trends, issues, and implications cited. The aim here is to abstract from nuance and detail to explain how our nation has come to this place, and to emphasize the security implications of our chosen path forward.