The primary defense of the necessity of the US National Security Agency’s broad spying powers—including, apparently, recording pretty much everything anyone anywhere is doing on the internet—is that its activities are necessary to protect against terrorists and violent criminals. But a report published Saturday in the New York Times indicates that federal agencies with far more mundane mandates are unable to resist the lure of the NSA’s vast trove of data.
One of the agencies listed in the Times’ report, which specifically mentions prosecution of copyright cases as an instance when NSA data has been sought, is the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which has gone after people who create sites that abet the sharing of copyrighted media. Easily the DOJ’s highest-profile copyright prosecutions is that of Kim Dotcom (real name) of Megaupload, whom the justice department alleges has caused a half a billion dollars worth of harm to copyright owners—”among the largest criminal copyright cases ever.”
While no one outside the US government has any idea whether justice has ever made requests of the NSA for data in connection with the Megaupload case, it’s just the sort of prosecution for with the DOJ might, because of the scale of the alleged damages and the way in which NSA’s internet spying could be especially useful in a matter of content sharing on the internet.
And this is not to say that the NSA gave up data in this or any other case connected with copyright. This is apparently due to the threat of bad publicity were NSA data ever used in cases only tenuously connected to terrorism or foreign intelligence—connections required by law in order for the NSA to hand over data. Already, in the wake of recent leaks about the NSA’s activities, Congress is considering 11 measures to limit the agency’s reach.