Government to keep data on citizens with NO connection to terrorism

National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr., left, and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess prepare to testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

New rules on information kept by the National Counterterrorism Center raise worries among privacy advocates.

Associated Press | Mar 23, 2012

WASHINGTON—The U.S. intelligence community will be able to store information about Americans with no ties to terrorism for up to five years under new Obama administration guidelines.

Until now, the National Counterterrorism Center had to immediately destroy information about Americans that was already stored in other government databases when there were no clear ties to terrorism.

Members of Congress had called for expanding the center’s record-retention authority, saying the intelligence community did not connect strands of intelligence held by multiple agencies that led up to the failed bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas 2009.

“Following the failed terrorist attack in December 2009, representatives of the counter-terrorism community concluded it is vital for NCTC to be provided with a variety of data sets from various agencies that contain terrorism information,” National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr. said in a statement late Thursday. “The ability to search against these data sets for up to five years on a continuing basis as these updated guidelines permit will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively.”

The new rules, which replace guidelines issued in 2008, have privacy advocates concerned about the potential for data-mining information on innocent Americans.

“It is a vast expansion of the government’s surveillance authority,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“The fact that this data can be retained for five years on U.S. citizens for whom there’s no evidence of criminal conduct is very disturbing,” he said, adding that the new guidelines undercut the Federal Privacy Act.

The Obama administration said the new rules come with strong safeguards for privacy. Before the counter-terrorism center may obtain data held by another government agency, there is a high-level review to assure that the data “is likely to contain significant terrorism information,” Alexander Joel, the civil liberties protection officer at the national intelligence directorate, said in a news release Thursday.

The center was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to be the central U.S. organization to analyze and integrate intelligence regarding terrorism.

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