Obama Administration Quietly Allowed National Counterterrorism Center To Keep Database Of Info On Innocent Americans

from the total-information-privacy-breach dept

The arguments are still ongoing concerning whether or not Congress will reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act, which has enabled — via a secret interpretation of the law, that even many members of Congress are not told about — law enforcement to collect huge chunks of private info on Americans with no oversight or warrants. However, in a move that should raise significant concerns about allowing such widespread trolling of private info, a report in the Wall Street Journal by Julia Angwin uncovered that the Obama administration quietly changed the rules back in March concerning the National Counterterrorism Center — allowing it to retain a giant database of information on innocent Americans. This was done over the objections of many in the administration, including the “Chief Privacy Officer” for the Department of Homeland Security.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) is where all intelligence agencies were told to send their leads, after it was determined that there was an intelligence failure that allowed the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to get on a plane a few years ago. Then came some interagency squabbling over information:

Unfortunately, NCTC didn’t have the resources to “exhaustively” pursue the torrent of leads it began receiving. So it fell behind. Late last year, after Homeland Security had given NCTC a database on condition that it purge the names of all innocent persons within 30 days, things came to a head. Homeland Security eventually revoked NCTC’s access to the data and NCTC decided it needed to operate under different rules. In particular, it wanted unlimited access to all government agency information for as long as it needed it, including both suspects and non-suspects alike. In March, after discussion at the White House, Eric Holder granted their request.

In a separate blog post, Angwin breaks down the specific rule changes from the 2008 document to the 2012 document. They detail just how a system that was initially limited to protect privacy has now turned into the exact opposite of that. Among the rule changes: it used to require a focus on terrorism information. No longer. And then there are the following two changes:

  • Dropping the requirement to remove innocent U.S. person information. The 2008 guidelines required NCTC to remove US person information that is “not reasonably believed to be terrorism information.” In 2012, the guidelines were updated to allow NCTC to keep U.S. person information for “up to five years” and to “continually assess” the information to determine whether it constitutes terrorism information.
  • Adding the ability to do “pattern-based queries” of entire datasets. The 2008 guidelines explicitly prohibit analysts from conducting “pattern-based” queries that are not based on known terrorism datapoints. The 2012 guidelines explicitly allow pattern-based queries that are not based on known terrorism data points. Pattern-based queries are still prohibited for databases that NCTC has not copied in its entirety.
  • Or, as the original article noted:

    Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.

    This all comes out almost exactly a decade after it was revealed that the feds were planning a “Total Information Awareness” program to troll through all of its databases to try to hunt down evidence of terrorism at work. That resulted in widespread public backlash and an eventual backing down from the program. This time around, since the whole thing was debated outside of the public eye (and they didn’t given it an Orwellian name — or an equally creepy logo), apparently it’s just fine.

    But, if you actually believe in things like basic civil liberties, the 4th Amendment and a right to privacy, this is all downright scary. It’s the type of stuff that we’re told over and over again the US government isn’t supposed to do. And then it goes and does it anyway.

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    Comments on “Obama Administration Quietly Allowed National Counterterrorism Center To Keep Database Of Info On Innocent Americans”

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    Jay (profile) says:

    Re: Shocking

    I know people don’t like talking about ideologies, but liberalism is indeed a pro-imperialist ideology.


    The fact is, people should remember that Harry Truman dropped the bomb in Japan. It isn’t a stretch to see Obama doing a similar attempt at terror to FDR with investigations into communism or Truman trumping the rights of socialists.

    I think the argument should be in how we get or government back from those that look to spread terror instead of stopping it.

    Jay (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:3 Shocking

    I have no idea why people think of direct democracy rather than the representative democracies that are important in converting ideas…

    First, our morality is usually reflected in the policies that are brought into the House and Senate. I have no idea why you bring up such an extreme example that has no bearing on the conversation, but let’s take you to a real life example.

    Eric Cantor is currently opposing the “Violence against Women” Act, which helps Native American women find justice from their rapists. Last, I checked, rape was immoral. Yet, a gerrymandered Congress which disproportionately represents conservatives and their libertarian view that the government is the enemy is in charge.

    We in the US have no proportional representation like in New Zealand or Europe.

    We have a very bad electoral system that discourages third parties from winning and works to send the country far more right wing than it should be.

    If the US had a true democracy instead of the corruptive influences of fascism from Reagan that destroyed the country in 1929, maybe you would have an argument. But in a true democracy, we, the people govern. Period. That can’t be taken away by just stating the government is the enemy.

    Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:4 Shocking

    Left/right and Republican/Democrat are false dichotomies. There is only one party: the big government party.

    And why are laws passed by representative democracies inherently more legitimate than direct democracies? Why do you believe that the morality of an action depends on whether more than 50% of some group of people vote on it, regardless of who that group is?

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Re:3 Shocking

    Not inevitable is just people don’t know a different kind.

    I read that ants work all by themselves they know what to do and they do it on an individual basis the whole works perfectly fine for them, the ant queen doesn’t command anything but it is protected at all costs and cared for.

    Now I wonder how mindless little things can work together and thrive without any central plan whatsoever?

    Maybe we should learn with them, just establish a set of simple rules that every one knows by heart and the rest sure will fall in place.

    Of course people will have to get a hold of their hedonistic tendencies first since those rules will be for good and bad times and will not work 100% of the time but should work more than half the time.

    People should clean the laws in their countries start looking hard at how many times a law is use it and if it is not used and fall below a certain threshold it should automatically be discarded, if the needs arise for it again people can always vote for it again.

    Jay (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:3 Shocking

    Actually, the Taft-Hartley Act did more…

    Or Nixon’s sabotage of the peace accord in 1968…

    Or Reagan’s “Two-Santa theory” as mentioned by Jude Waninski…

    Or Bush’s tax cuts that did even more damage than Reagan…

    I mean, hell… What have consevatives done for the country besides work to undermine it based on their ideological beliefs? At least liberals try to follow the rules.

    The Real Michael says:

    Re: Re: Re:6 Shocking

    Both political parties are merely two sides of the same coin. Both are working to undermine our values, freedoms and privacy. If I’m wrong then so is this article.

    The government’s favorite method of “fighting against terrorists” is to eliminate our rights. Maybe if we’re all enslaved by a hostile government, the terrorists will no longer hate us for our freedoms.

    Jay (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:7 Shocking

    I never quite cared for the hardcore centrist route myself. Both parties are not the same. One is extremely authoritarian while the other is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. One party wants to take away women’s rights. The other wants to strengthen it. One party cares enough to try to have conversations about different issues. The other merely sells out to the highest bidder based on their ideological beliefs.

    Both parties are not the same. You should look up the differences yourself instead of believing a media machine aimed at corporate interest over public interest.

    Finally, terrorism is a tactic. It worked successfully because there has been no true dialogue about the damage we’ve done to other countries. Maybe if we stop bombing innocents, we can begin to figure out how to get our country back. But that won’t happen so long as the US takes ash over-aggressive martial response to everything in front of them.

    Robert (profile) says:

    Doesn't matter

    It doesn’t matter who is in office, the erosion of civil liberties will continue.

    The only way to stop it is to fight back, gradually and peacefully. I think it would be best to remove those people from power, give them a cushy useless job with a nice pension, get them out of power! Then we can start the gradual change back to sanity. First will be the limiting of the revolving door between industry and government, along with the influence.

    Gradual is the key, quick changes are quickly reversed, but a carefully planned, gradual introduction is more difficult to detect and fight (which is how the erosion of civil liberties took place).

    velox (profile) says:

    “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.” [holding thumb and finger close together]

    — William Binney, former NSA cryptographer and mathematician
    ref: Bamford, The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

    If you haven’t done so, I recommend you listen to this Binney interview from April of this year.

    John Fenderson (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re:

    You’re talking like there’s any real difference between major corporations and the government, and I don’t think there is.

    Either way, though, as soon as Amazon, Google, or any other major corporation has it, so does the government. Your information is even less safe in their hands because you don’t have any constitutional protections from the actions of a corporation.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    This is not some small thing, this will lead to the spark of inevatable violence towards governments worldwide, as every grievances over the many years, towards governments will come at them in one go, once the house of cards starts showing signs of falling, and they dont care, which makes it even more worse……either through ignorance or maliciousness our representatives are leading us away from liberty and to death

    The writting on the wall is hard to ignore, i hope that an honest, truthfull, profound, and peacefull solution is finally pushed far enough that those fighting it have no more cards to play,

    Anonymous Coward says:

    It’s official, America is now run by an authoritarian regime that no longer operates under the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

    It’s official, America is now run by an authoritarian regime that no longer operates under the US Constitution.

    The Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791. The US PATRIOT Act was ratified on February 1, 2002. So 2002 – 1791 = 211 years of true Democracy, before America slid back into an Authoritarian Regime. So the ‘Great Experiment’ lasted for two lifetimes, before collapsing. Somehow I think our Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves, knowing that they sacrifiesed so many American lives fighting the British, only to have their great experiment fail 200 years later.

    The Real Michael says:

    Re: Re:

    The so-called Patriot Act is a piece of worthless crap, as is FISA. Our own government has betrayed us. The NSA may as well put huge swastika emblems on their buildings because that’s what they truly represent. So long as Washington decimates whatever’s left of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, every American soldier who fought for this country did so in vain.

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