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FBI quietly changes rules on how it handles NSA data, to the benefit of privacy

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has quietly changed the rules on how it deals with data procured from the National Security Agency and stored in the NSA’s database.

Papers have surfaced about the changes, explained in a report from The Guardian, and while details on the changes remain extremely unclear, it seems as though they move to enhance privacy.

Related: Apple vs. the FBI: A complete timeline of the war over tech encryption

The new rules were reportedly approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and they specifically are about how the FBI handles the information it is able to get from the NSA. The NSA itself is mainly aimed at surveilling communications with foreigners, however, because of how wide the NSA casts its net, plenty of data is collected regarding U.S. citizens as well. It seems as though the FBI has able to search through that data without “minimization” from the NSA – basically, the NSA couldn’t redact identifiable information, which previously would only have been obtainable through a search warrant.

The FBI in general has very privileged access to NSA data, and the Obama administration recently announced that it was working on new laws that would give similar access to other U.S. agencies.

A privacy watchdog called the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), however, took issue with how the FBI was able to access NSA data back in 2014. This group was organized by President Obama following the Edward Snowden leaks, and noted that the FBI didn’t even have to log when it was accessing NSA information, nor did it have to disclose how much of that information had to do with U.S. citizens.

These new rules, it seems, will address some privacy concerns, and offer some limitation on the FBI, according to a recent report from the PCLOB.

“Changes have been implemented based on PCLOB recommendations, but we cannot comment further due to classification,” said Christopher Allen, an FBI spokesperson, in an interview with The Guardian. A spokesperson from the PCLOB also discussed the issue, saying that while the matter is classified, the changes improve citizen privacy.

Details on the changes are unknown, and while the FBI says that it is considering releasing information about the new rules, that has yet to happen, and there is certainly no guarantee that it will happen.

Of course, the report comes at a sensitive time for the FBI as its battle rages on with Apple over the creation of backdoors in the iPhone. It’s certainly interesting that at the same time as making moves against user privacy, the agency is also making moves for privacy.