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Change We Can Believe In, XXX

Change We Can Believe In: Expanding the Security State

Good news: our government has expanded its powers to spy on us. On Thursday, Attorney General Holder signed new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). As Charlie Savage explained in the Friday NYT,

The guidelines will lengthen to five years — from 180 days — the amount of time the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said. The guidelines are also expected to result in the center making more copies of entire databases and “data mining them” using complex algorithms to search for patterns that could indicate a threat.

[snip]

They set up three tracks by which the center could retrieve information gathered by another agency: by doing a limited search itself for certain data, by asking another agency to perform such a search, or — in cases whether neither was sufficient — by replicating the database and analyzing the information itself.

The new guidelines keep that structure in place, but put greater emphasis on the third track, while also relaxing restrictions on how long data on Americans who have no known tie to terrorism may be stored. The old guidelines said data on innocent Americans must be deleted promptly, which the agency interpreted to mean if no tie to terrorism was detected within 180 days.

The new guidelines are intended to allow the center to hold on to information about Americans for up to five years, although the agencies that collected the information — and can negotiate about how it will be used — may place a shorter life span on it.

To understand the meaning of this, let’s turn to the blogger emptywheel, who read through the guidelines and provided a preliminary analysis in a post on Friday. Her analysis is short. I recommend reading it in full. Her main theme is that the guidelines “allow the NCTC to obtain information on US persons, dump it into their datamining, and then ultimately pass it on. In this, I’ll show how, by magic of cynical bureaucracy, the government is about to turn non-terrorist data into terrorist data.”

Emptywheel takes us through some key passages, describing how the document “blathers on about how NCTC also has the responsibility to request information and pass it on. This is the legal language they’re going to translate to mean the opposite of what it says.” She highlights the following passage from the guidelines –

NCTC’s analytic and integration efforts … at times require it to access and review datasets that are identified as including non-terrorism information in order to identify and obtain “terrorism information,” as defined in section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004, as amended. “Non-terrorism information” for purposes of these Guidelines includes information pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism, as well as information maintained by other executive departments and agencies that has not been identified as “terrorism information” as defined by IRTPA. [emptywheel's emphasis]

– and identifies the sleight of hand:

Note that bolded section is not a citation from existing law. It is, instead, NCTC turning NCTC’s authority to sometimes get domestic terrorism information into authority to get any dataset maintained by any executive agency that NCTC believes might include some information that might be terrorism information.

Those of us in the US Government’s tax, social security, HHS, immigration, military, and other federal databases? We’ve all, by bureaucratic magic, been turned into domestic terrorists.

So in addition to all of us in government databases–that is, all of us–being deemed domestic terrorists, the data the government keeps to track our travel, our taxes, our benefits, our identity? It just got transformed from bureaucratic data into national security intelligence.

Not exactly a surprise, but now this policy has been approved by our attorney general (and president).

Categories: Law, Security
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