Study Reveals Brokers Can Buy US Military Data 'With Shocking Ease'
Study Leaves Researchers 'Shocked'
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In a year-long study funded, in part, by the United States Military Academy at West Point, researchers have shed light on the severe privacy and national security risks associated with data brokers, the MIT Technology Review reported on November 6. These shadowy entities operate within a multibillion-dollar industry, collecting, aggregating, and selling data—a practice that remains legal in the United States.
With claims of possessing extensive individual data points on every person in their databases, data brokers have faced criticism for exacerbating personal and consumer privacy erosion.
The study's findings have left researchers "shocked" by how effortlessly they were able to access highly sensitive information about military personnel. Coauthor Hayley Barton, a graduate student researcher, expressed her surprise, stating, "In practice, it seems as though anyone with an email address, a bank account, and a few hundred dollars could acquire the same type of data that we did."
The authors hope that their study serves as a stark warning to US lawmakers, urging Congress to enact comprehensive privacy legislation that restricts the data broker industry. Privacy researcher Justin Sherman, the lead author of the report, emphasizes the need for regulation, stating, "What we really need is regulation of this ecosystem. At the end of the day, this is a congressional problem—because we need new legal authorities to deal with these risks, and regulatory agencies need more resources."
Senator Elizabeth Warren, who serves on the US Senate Armed Services Committee and has reviewed the report, shares the researchers' concerns. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, argues that data brokers are selling sensitive information about service members and their families without adequately considering the serious national security risks involved. She asserts the need for robust protective measures, stating, "This report makes clear that we need real guardrails to protect the personal data of service members."
The study's revelations highlight the urgent need for legislative action to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals, particularly those serving in the military. With the ease of access to sensitive data demonstrated by the researchers, it is evident that immediate measures must be taken to prevent potential breaches. The report's authors and Senator Warren agree that a comprehensive privacy law, backed by new legal authorities and sufficient resources, is the solution to address the risks posed by data brokers.
As concerns grow over the vast amount of personal information being bought and sold by these entities, the call for regulation becomes increasingly urgent. The protection of personal data is crucial not only for the individuals affected but also for national security. It is now up to Congress to enact the necessary legislation to establish the safeguards required to mitigate these growing privacy and security threats.