Unmasking is an intelligence protocol redacting American identities from transcripts of foreign intercepts.
In a national security context, unmasking refers to the practice of revealing the identity of a U.S. person whose communications or information has been incidentally collected during the surveillance of foreign targets by intelligence agencies. This process is safeguarded by strict privacy laws and regulations, as the initial collection is aimed at foreign entities, not U.S. citizens or residents.
The identities of U.S. persons are typically minimized or masked in intelligence reports to protect their privacy. However, if the identity of the U.S. person is essential to understanding the foreign intelligence value of the report, authorized officials may request that the identity be unmasked.
This procedure is tightly controlled and only senior officials with the appropriate security clearance and a validated need to know can make such requests. The rationale is to ensure that the intelligence gathered is pertinent to national security investigations or assessments.
It’s important to note that unmasking is not about spying on U.S. citizens; rather, it’s a byproduct of the broader surveillance activities aimed at foreign entities and national security threats. The process is designed to balance the imperative of national security with the protection of individual privacy rights, underscoring the complex interplay between surveillance, privacy, and security in the modern world.