FISA amendments must acknowledge critical role OSINT plays in preserving national security

As we approach the April 2024 expiration of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it is heartening to see a robust debate in Congress...

As we approach the April 2024 expiration of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it is heartening to see a robust debate in Congress on how the U.S. government and its commercial partners can balance the imperatives of safeguarding the privacy of U.S. citizens with ensuring the physical and cyber security of the nation and our allies.

Threats to American and allied interests worldwide are rising. Against this backdrop, we see it as only good that members of Congress in both parties are recognizing that responsible and compliance-focused American companies – and the innovation and technology they bring – can support national security goals through best-available, trusted open-source intelligence (OSINT). The use of OSINT, composed of both publicly-available information and commercially-available information, has grown dramatically in the past decade, and has become a key tool in supporting national security missions worldwide.

As executives at Flashpoint, a leading American provider of OSINT to governments and global enterprises, protecting civil liberties and securing our nation are not just features of our business. They are fundamental to our mission.

Working side by side with the public sector, we are able to see daily how our focused commercial intelligence, which is produced and curated by hundreds of professional analysts and technologists, helps drive critical missions in protecting people, property and assets. These partners have been able to better inform decisions that ultimately save lives, solve investigations, uncover terrorist plots, apprehend criminals, thwart fraud, and help direct smart international investment. Our company does this while adhering to core principles of privacy and civil liberties, and that is reflected in a thoughtful, deliberate and compliance-first approach to the collection and dissemination of OSINT.

Accordingly, as Congress evaluates amendments to Section 702, we urge a thoughtful, deliberate and transparent process that acknowledges the critical role that OSINT, and the intelligence analysts that drive OSINT collections, play in upholding our national security.

Our adversaries, of course, have no limits in their efforts to undermine the U.S. through mass data thefts and purchasing and scraping of private data on individual Americans and allies. We see elevating risks based on the activities of advanced state-backed threats from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and networks of proxy actors on every continent, which has led to increased risk and scale of cyber and physical attacks, ranging from ransomware to destructive malware campaigns and threats on critical infrastructure.

It would therefore be devastating to U.S. agencies and our foreign allies not to be able to leverage the data and insight that companies like ours produce responsibly. As a result, while we encourage a nuanced and thoughtful debate around how OSINT can be leveraged in an ethical, privacy-focused way, amendments to Section 702 must not sacrifice the ability of agencies to swiftly and effectively use this data without draconian restrictions.

Fortunately, we need not sacrifice civil liberties and fundamental privacy rights to benefit from the great power and scale of OSINT and commercial intelligence. For example, here at Flashpoint, we take a careful, compliance-first approach to all of our analyst activities, and remain vigilant on how we can support privacy imperatives without sacrificing mission success. These technologies and practices which empower better illumination of hazy threats also empower better protection of civil liberties and privacy. With national security as our shared North Star, we stand ready to support an open, transparent legislative process and engage with government, academia and other stakeholders to arrive at a solution that enlists the full power of American technology while always upholding the standards of American values.

Donald Saelinger is the president of Flashpoint, a U.S.-based risk data and intelligence firm.

Andrew Borene is Flashpoint’s executive director for global security. Based in London, he is a former officer at the National Counterterrorism Center and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Previously, he has been an associate deputy general counsel at the Pentagon, and he is a Marine Corps veteran.

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