The US federal government has the potential to know even more about people because it controls the world’s biggest data bank, said David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor who recently stepped down as the US Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection director.
Before leaving the commission last year, Vladeck opened an inquiry into the practices of Acxiom and other data brokers because he feared that information was being misinterpreted in ways that unfairly stereotyped people. For instance, someone might be classified as a potential health risk just because they bought products linked to an increased chance of heart attack. The commission’s inquiry into data brokers is still open.
Vladeck stressed he had no reason to believe that the NSA is misinterpreting the data it collects about private citizens. He finds some comfort in the Guardian report that said the Verizon order had been signed by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Ronald Vinson.
The NSA “differs from a commercial enterprise in the sense that there are checks in the judicial system and in Congress,” Vladeck said. “If you believe in the way our government is supposed to work, then you should have some faith that those checks are meaningful. If you are skeptical about government, then you probably don’t think that kind of oversight means anything.”