Rockefeller Takes Issue With President's Private Data Storage Proposal

Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) paid a visit to a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on national security threats to register his opposition to the President's proposal to have a third party, rather than the NSA, store telephone metadata related to NSA's data collection operations.

The President proposed a third party, rather than NSA, store the data as one change prompted by criticism of NSA's bulk telecom data collection.

But Rockefeller said that everyone was agreed that a newly created third party did not and would not exist, which left private telecoms, who he said did not want to be the government's data keeper and should not be asked to be.

"The collection and querying of this metadata is not a private sector responsibility," Rockefeller said in a statement to the committee. "There are hundreds and hundreds of telecommunications companies in this country. They do not want to become agents of the government," he said. "They do not want to become the government’s guardians of vast amounts of intelligence data."

Rockefeller said he was already concerned about the info private data brokers already have.

"My concerns about private providers retaining this data for national security purposes are only heightened by the advent of the multi-billion dollar data broker industry that mines troves of data – including telephone numbers – which it uses to determine our most personal inclinations. One data broker holds as much as 75,000 different data points about each of us including our health and financial status," he said. "Further involving the telecom providers in the extended storage of this data for intelligence purposes would not only make that data subject to discovery in civil lawsuits, but it would also make it more vulnerable to theft by hackers or foreign intelligence organizations. Another powerful reason to be against private companies taking responsibility for an inherently governmental function."

Rockefeller said that the hacking of Target does not reassure him that moving sensitive data to the private sector would protect consumers.

"Moving this data away from the stringent audits and oversight mechanisms that this committee has worked to put in place makes the data more, not less, vulnerable to abuse. I want to reiterate, the telecom providers want no part of it. This is not a foundation for a good partnership," he said.

The Senator on Jan. 28 sent a letter to Target asking why it had yet to report its massive data breach—info from tens of millions of customers—to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has recommended that companies do so are part of their responsibility to report information that could materially affect their business. Rockefeller had urged the SEC to issue that guidance.

Following Rockefeller's statement, Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that, in her view, Rockefeller "knew what he was talking about."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.