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NCTC Gets Vast Powers To Spy On U.S. Citizens

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the so-full-of-hope-for-change dept.

Government 332

interval1066 writes "In a breathtaking new move by (another) little-known national security agency, the personal information of all U.S. citizens will be available for casual perusal. The 'National Counterterrorism Center' (I've never heard of this org) may now 'examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them.' This is different from past bureaucratic practice (never mind due process) in that a government agency not in the list of agencies approved to to certain things without due process may completely bypass due process and store (for up to 5 years) these records, the organization doesn't need a warrant, or have any kind of oversight of any kind. They will be sifting through these records looking for 'counter-insurgency activity,' supposedly with an eye to prevention. If this doesn't wake you up and chill you to your very bone, not too sure there is anything that will anyway."

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332 comments

Unconstitutional (5, Funny)

kc67 (2789711) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276109)

With enough media attention this will be shut down.

Re:Unconstitutional (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276269)

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *gasp* AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Really, I wish it were true, but I doubt it. A lot of people will "agree in the name of national security" that they won't fight it.

Terrorist! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276673)

Clearly both you and the op are terrorists.

There's the rub, isn't it? As long as you call people terrorists, you can do anything to them.

Blow up buildings? Terrorist.
Free animals from research facilities? Terrorist.
Do a web search about bomb-making? Terrorist.
Say "terrorist" in an airport? Terrorist.
Run a red light? Terrorist.
Post a "subversive" comment on Slashdot? Terrorist.
Read this message? Terrorist!!!

Re:Terrorist! (4, Insightful)

thoughtlover (83833) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277129)

Post as AC? Terrorist.

The real chilling effect is how discourse could be curtailed in forums and the like. I think smart people will start saying a lot less; which will probably raise some red flag, somewhere.

Re:Unconstitutional (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276291)

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should
Rinse and Repeat

Works for alot of "stuff" these days.

Re:Unconstitutional (4, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276301)

Like how that warrantless wiretapping program was shut down?

Re:Unconstitutional (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276609)

Well they did takes steps to stop illegal warrantless wiretapping: they made it legal.

Re:Unconstitutional (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276969)

Very wise perspective, AC, very wise indeed.

Re:Unconstitutional (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276441)

Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Re:Unconstitutional (2)

chill (34294) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277077)

Considering the article is behind a paywall, your pithy attempt at humor is more insightful that I'll bet you intended.

Do the work! Don't ignore the extreme corruption. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276471)

You are giving yourself an excuse. Maybe that is true, but you are ignoring the many, many ways the U.S. government is VERY corrupt. The U.S. financial system steals trillions of dollars. The kill-other-people-and-destroy-property groups associated with the U.S. government have stolen trillions of dollars to kill people in lands most citizens can't find on a map, partly for profit and partly because they are mentally ill.

Citizens and taxpayers are not even allowed to know the names of all the secret groups that secretly get taxpayer money to do secret things that benefit people who taxpayers are not allowed to know.

U.S. government corruption is a problem for everyone on the planet, not just U.S. citizens.

Do the work of stopping corruption in the U.S. government.

Re:Unconstitutional (2, Funny)

netwarerip (2221204) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276509)

With enough media attention this will be shut down.

I would love to mod this funny but am out of points.

Re:Unconstitutional (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276677)

With enough media attention this will be shut down.

I would love to mod this funny but am out of points.

I would love to tell you how little I care about how you would like to have modded something. Comments like this massively add to the amount of dross on this site (or in your terms, I would love to mod this post a waste of time, but I don't see why some users are so excited about logging in and modding things).

Re:Unconstitutional (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276985)

I would love to mod your post a waste of time...then someone can mod this post as a waste of time.

Re:Unconstitutional (1)

Holladon (1620389) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277013)

I would love to tell you how little I care about how you would like to have modded something.

So little that you took the time to write two whole sentences about it!

Re:Unconstitutional (2)

Anarchy24 (964386) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277055)

A) Media attention will do nothing to stop this. Never has. There is nothing new about the government granting itself more authority, and it -never- gives it up.

B) I would create a new mod category and call it 'Wrong', and your post would be the first one to get it ^_^

Re:Unconstitutional (2)

techsimian (2555762) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276519)

The amount of crap that was "shovel ready" post-911 is pretty depressing.
The amount of screwed up Anti-terrorism/National Security/Good of the People legislation/executive orders that got pushed through during the trample our rights to make us safe period will take decades to clear out.

I would love to see the secret government shut down, but it's almost 10 years old and there has been plenty of media attention. It takes a lot of effort and time to figure out how to get information on the thing that is secret, to find out what to ask out the secret stuff the secret thing is doing.

Re:Unconstitutional (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276685)

With enough media attention this will be shut down.

You VASTLY underestimate the give-a-shit factor of the average sack of human flesh.

And Unconstitutional would imply that there's anything left in the way of Rights to even argue what is or what isn't anymore. (I'll give you a hint as to the state of your Rights. Bend over. No, farther, much farther.)

What does criminal behavior have to do with terror (1)

elucido (870205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276701)

With enough media attention this will be shut down.

It's one thing to worry about terrorist, but if they are talking about a witch hunt to find criminals then there is no way anyone but catholic police officers could support it.

Re:What does criminal behavior have to do with ter (4, Insightful)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277025)

McCarthy supports this group from beyond the grave.

Re:Unconstitutional (2)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276975)

well, if we've heard about it, its already entrenched and too late to remove it or fix it.

btw, its not what we hear about, that I would worry about. its the real shit that won't ever be reported or leaked. as usual, the stuff that gets leaked is not the real stuff to be worried about. as bad as this is, its probably much, much worse than we think it is.

Re:Unconstitutional (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42277005)

yes, so that make me think that poster is just another troll. other information I've seen about this indicates only that "Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime."

unless there is a better source - one that isn't paywalled - this isn't news, just propaganda.

Wait, what? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276143)

The government should need a warrant or due process to access its own records?

Of course, I did not RTFA

Re:Wait, what? (2)

anagama (611277) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276615)

Well, how did it get those records? What are the records? What means is it using to get more records? Think a little.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

Creepy (93888) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276963)

When I was a kid, checking out certain library books immediately put you on an FBI list. Now it's much easier - they just grab all your emails and non-https posts as they get routed through servers and toss them in a file on you. All of your secure emails probably get tossed into an NSA supercomputer and cracked and filed as well. I'm sure visiting certain web sites like fertilizer-R.us or terrorism.com puts you on a watch list as well. No, I'm not paranoid, but my government is.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

Holladon (1620389) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277155)

The government should need a warrant or due process to access its own records?

I take it that the issue is less the government accessing info that it has and more the government marking the info for a certain purpose with no oversight or due process guarantees. I imagine the problem isn't access per se but rather the potential for abuse and possible chilling effects. It sounds possibly a bit McCarthyistic.

Of course, I did not RTFA

Neither did I, because I don't care to have my money used to help the WSJ churn out neo-conservative drivel. Be nice if there had been a link to a non-paywalled source...

Paywalled (2)

Niris (1443675) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276149)

Anyone with a WSJ account able to post the article?

Re:Paywalled (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276293)

I mean really. TFS has a link to Wikipedia (OK, now we know what the NCC is and I guess it's not a space ship), then a paywalled article.

OK, I'm willing to go along with the concept that the US Federal government has gotten even more intrusive however, a little real info would be nice. Very nice. How about taking 30 seconds more and finding a better link [aclu.org] .

I know some feel that the ACLU is a bit on the left wing insane side, but it's a nice balance to the the WSJ right wing insane. And the blog is at least free, readable and nominally interesting.

tl;dr - we're doomed.

Re:Paywalled (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276433)

And the Slashdot Obamanites stammer, shudder and offer lame explanations while, in the back of their mind, slam themselves for supporting Obama.

Re:Paywalled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276531)

Along with Gitmo being closed by Jan 2010, oops upgraded.

Re:Paywalled (2, Insightful)

Un pobre guey (593801) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276723)

I consider myself Liberal and Progressive. I did not support the center-right Obama. He is yet another staunchly pro-establishment political operator like so many before him.

Wake up, folks. We have been living in an authoritarian military oligarchy since World War I, when the finance-military-industrial-congressional complex got started in earnest. The rest is history, and Amazon is filled to the brim with its documentation.

Re:Paywalled (2)

DrgnDancer (137700) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276515)

OK, I'm willing to go along with the concept that the US Federal government has gotten even more intrusive however, a little real info would be nice.

I'm not even sure about that much. If the info in the summary is accurate, this agency isn't collecting information on you, merely compiling information that other agencies already collected. I'm frankly a little shocked this isn't already happening. From the summary this sounds like a paranoid tempest in a teakettle, but I can't read the article either.

Re:Paywalled (3, Informative)

danomac (1032160) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276321)

Try this link through google search [google.com] .

Re:Paywalled (5, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277061)

If that doesn't work, try the google cache
https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324478304578171623040640006.html [googleusercontent.com]

December 12, 2012, 10:30 p.m. ET
U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens
By JULIA ANGWIN

Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens--even people suspected of no crime.

Not everyone was on board. "This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public," Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, argued in the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

A week later, the attorney general signed the changes into effect.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with officials at numerous agencies, The Wall Street Journal has reconstructed the clash over the counterterrorism program within the administration of President Barack Obama. The debate was a confrontation between some who viewed it as a matter of efficiency--how long to keep data, for instance, or where it should be stored--and others who saw it as granting authority for unprecedented government surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.

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. Data about Americans "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" may be permanently retained.

The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.

"It's breathtaking" in its scope, said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.

Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data. "The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes," said Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the parent agency for the National Counterterrorism Center.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution says that searches of "persons, houses, papers and effects" shouldn't be conducted without "probable cause" that a crime has been committed. But that doesn't cover records the government creates in the normal course of business with citizens.

Congress specifically sought to prevent government agents from rifling through government files indiscriminately when it passed the Federal Privacy Act in 1974. The act prohibits government agencies from sharing data with each other for purposes that aren't "compatible" with the reason the data were originally collected.

But the Federal Privacy Act allows agencies to exempt themselves from many requirements by placing notices in the Federal Register, the government's daily publication of proposed rules. In practice, these privacy-act notices are rarely contested by government watchdogs or members of the public. "All you have to do is publish a notice in the Federal Register and you can do whatever you want," says Robert Gellman, a privacy consultant who advises agencies on how to comply with the Privacy Act.

As a result, the National Counterterrorism Center program's opponents within the administration--led by Ms. Callahan of Homeland Security--couldn't argue that the program would violate the law. Instead, they were left to question whether the rules were good policy.

Under the new rules issued in March, the National Counterterrorism Center, known as NCTC, can obtain almost any database the government collects that it says is "reasonably believed" to contain "terrorism information." The list could potentially include almost any government database, from financial forms submitted by people seeking federally backed mortgages to the health records of people who sought treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals.

Previous government proposals to scrutinize massive amounts of data about innocent people have caused an uproar. In 2002, the Pentagon's research arm proposed a program called Total Information Awareness that sought to analyze both public and private databases for terror clues. It would have been far broader than the NCTC's current program, examining many nongovernmental pools of data as well.

"If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures," the program's promoter, Admiral John Poindexter, said at the time. "We must be able to pick this signal out of the noise."

Adm. Poindexter's plans drew fire from across the political spectrum over the privacy implications of sorting through every single document available about U.S. citizens. Conservative columnist William Safire called the plan a "supersnoop's dream." Liberal columnist Molly Ivins suggested it could be akin to fascism. Congress eventually defunded the program.

The National Counterterrorism Center's ideas faced no similar public resistance. For one thing, the debate happened behind closed doors. In addition, unlike the Pentagon, the NCTC was created in 2004 specifically to use data to connect the dots in the fight against terrorism.

Even after eight years in existence, the agency isn't well known. "We're still a bit of a startup and still having to prove ourselves," said director Matthew Olsen in a rare public appearance this summer at the Aspen Institute, a leadership think tank.

The agency's offices are tucked away in an unmarked building set back from the road in the woodsy suburban neighborhood of McLean, Va. Many employees are on loan from other agencies, and they don't conduct surveillance or gather clues directly. Instead, they analyze data provided by others.

The agency's best-known product is a database called TIDE, which stands for the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. TIDE contains more than 500,000 identities suspected of terror links. Some names are known or suspected terrorists; others are terrorists' friends and families; still more are people with some loose affiliation to a terrorist.

TIDE files are important because they are used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to compile terrorist "watchlists." These are lists that can block a person from boarding an airplane or obtaining a visa.

The watchlist system failed spectacularly on Christmas Day 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian man, boarded a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam wearing explosives sewn into his undergarments. He wasn't on the watchlist.

He eventually pleaded guilty to terror-related charges and is imprisoned. His bomb didn't properly detonate.

However, Mr. Abdulmutallab and his underwear did alter U.S. intelligence-gathering. A Senate investigation revealed that NCTC had received information about him but had failed to query other government databases about him. In a scathing finding, the Senate report said, "the NCTC was not organized adequately to fulfill its missions."

"This was not a failure to collect or share intelligence," said John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism adviser, at a White House press conference in January 2010. "It was a failure to connect and integrate and understand the intelligence we had."

As result, Mr. Obama demanded a watchlist overhaul. Agencies were ordered to send all their leads to NCTC, and NCTC was ordered to "pursue thoroughly and exhaustively terrorism threat threads."

Quickly, NCTC was flooded with terror tips--each of which it was obligated to "exhaustively" pursue. By May 2010 there was a huge backlog, according a report by the Government Accountability Office.

Legal obstacles emerged. NCTC analysts were permitted to query federal-agency databases only for "terrorism datapoints," say, one specific person's name, or the passengers on one particular flight. They couldn't look through the databases trolling for general "patterns." And, if they wanted to copy entire data sets, they were required to remove information about innocent U.S. people "upon discovery."

But they didn't always know who was innocent. A person might seem innocent today, until new details emerge tomorrow.

"What we learned from Christmas Day"--from the failed underwear bomb--was that some information "might seem more relevant later," says Mr. Joel, the national intelligence agency's civil liberties officer. "We realized we needed it to be retained longer."

Late last year, for instance, NCTC obtained an entire database from Homeland Security for analysis, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Homeland Security provided the disks on the condition that NCTC would remove all innocent U.S. person data after 30 days.

After 30 days, a Homeland Security team visited and found that the data hadn't yet been removed. In fact, NCTC hadn't even finished uploading the files to its own computers, that person said. It can take weeks simply to upload and organize the mammoth data sets.

Homeland Security granted a 30-day extension. That deadline was missed, too. So Homeland Security revoked NCTC's access to the data.

To fix problems like these that had cropped up since the Abdulmutallab incident, NCTC proposed the major expansion of its powers that would ultimately get debated at the March meeting in the White House. It moved to ditch the requirement that it discard the innocent-person data. And it asked for broader authority to troll for patterns in the data.

As early as February 2011, NCTC's proposal was raising concerns at the privacy offices of both Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, according to emails reviewed by the Journal.

Privacy offices are a relatively new phenomenon in the intelligence community. Most were created at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. Privacy officers are often in the uncomfortable position of identifying obstacles to plans proposed by their superiors.

At the Department of Justice, Chief Privacy Officer Nancy Libin raised concerns about whether the guidelines could unfairly target innocent people, these people said. Some research suggests that, statistically speaking, there are too few terror attacks for predictive patterns to emerge. The risk, then, is that innocent behavior gets misunderstood--say, a man buying chemicals (for a child's science fair) and a timer (for the sprinkler) sets off false alarms.

An August government report indicates that, as of last year, NCTC wasn't doing predictive pattern-matching.

The internal debate was more heated at Homeland Security. Ms. Callahan and colleague Margo Schlanger, who headed the 100-person Homeland Security office for civil rights and civil liberties, were concerned about the implications of turning over vast troves of data to the counterterrorism center, these people said.

They and Ms. Libin at the Justice Department argued that the failure to catch Mr. Abdulmutallab wasn't caused by the lack of a suspect--he had already been flagged--but by a failure to investigate him fully. So amassing more data about innocent people wasn't necessarily the right solution.

The most sensitive Homeland Security data trove at stake was the Advanced Passenger Information System. It contains the name, gender, birth date and travel information for every airline passenger entering the U.S.

Previously, Homeland Security had pledged to keep passenger data only for 12 months. But NCTC was proposing to copy and keep it for up to five years. Ms. Callahan argued this would break promises the agency had made to the public about its use of personal data, these people said.

Discussions sometimes got testy, according to emails reviewed by the Journal. In one case, Ms. Callahan sent an email complaining that "examples" provided to her by an unnamed intelligence official were "complete non-sequiturs" and "non-responsive."

In May 2011, Ms. Callahan and Ms. Schlanger raised their concerns with the chief of their agency, Janet Napolitano. They fired off a memo under the longwinded title, "How Best to Express the Department's Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns over Draft Guidelines Proposed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center," according to an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The contents of the memo, which appears to run several pages, were redacted.

The two also kept pushing the NCTC officials to justify why they couldn't search for terrorism clues less invasively, these people said. "I'm not sure I'm totally prepared with the firestorm we're about to create," Ms. Schlanger emailed Ms. Callahan in November, referring to the fact that the two wanted more privacy protections. Ms. Schlanger returned to her faculty position at the University of Michigan Law School soon after but remains an adviser to Homeland Security.

To resolve the issue, Homeland Security's deputy secretary, Jane Holl Lute, requested the March meeting at the White House. The second in command from Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the FBI, NCTC and the office of the director of national intelligence sat at the small conference table. Normal protocol for such meeting is for staffers such as Ms. Callahan to sit against the walls of the room and keep silent.

By this point, Ms. Libin's concern that innocent people could be inadvertently targeted had been largely overruled at the Department of Justice, these people said. Colleagues there were more concerned about missing the next terrorist threat.

That left Ms. Callahan as the most prominent opponent of the proposed changes. In an unusual move, Ms. Lute asked Ms. Callahan to speak about Homeland Security's privacy concerns. Ms. Callahan argued that the rules would constitute a "sea change" because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?

Mr. Brennan considered the arguments. And within a few days, the attorney general, Eric Holder, had signed the new guidelines. The Justice Department declined to comment about the debate over the guidelines.

Under the new rules, every federal agency must negotiate terms under which it would hand over databases to NCTC. This year, Ms. Callahan left Homeland Security for private practice, and Ms. Libin left the Justice Department to join a private firm.

Homeland Security is currently working out the details to give the NCTC three data sets--the airline-passenger database known as APIS; another airline-passenger database containing information about non-U.S. citizen visitors to the U.S.; and a database about people seeking refugee asylum. It previously agreed to share databases containing information about foreign-exchange students and visa applications.

Once the terms are set, Homeland Security is likely to post a notice in the Federal Register. The public can submit comments to the Federal Register about proposed changes, although Homeland Security isn't required to make changes based on the comments.

Write to Julia Angwin at julia.angwin@wsj.com

Re:Paywalled (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276365)

Google the article title and click through to the article.

Re:Paywalled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276577)

Go through Google. Try this [google.com]

Re:Paywalled (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276643)

Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime.

Not everyone was on board. "This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public," Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, argued in the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

A week later, the attorney general signed the changes into effect.

More
A Comparison of the 2008 and 2012 NCTC Guidelines

The NCTC Controversy -- A Timeline

Documents
NCTC Guidelines – 2012

View Interactive

.
NCTC Guidelines -- 2008

View Interactive

.
Homeland Security Department Email about the NCTC Guidelines

View Interactive

.
.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with officials at numerous agencies, The Wall Street Journal has reconstructed the clash over the counterterrorism program within the administration of President Barack Obama. The debate was a confrontation between some who viewed it as a matter of efficiency—how long to keep data, for instance, or where it should be stored—and others who saw it as granting authority for unprecedented government surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.

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. Data about Americans "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" may be permanently retained.

Enlarge Image

image
Closeimage
Getty Images

National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in January.
.
The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.

"It's breathtaking" in its scope, said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.

Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data. "The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes," said Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the parent agency for the National Counterterrorism Center.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution says that searches of "persons, houses, papers and effects" shouldn't be conducted without "probable cause" that a crime has been committed. But that doesn't cover records the government creates in the normal course of business with citizens.

Congress specifically sought to prevent government agents from rifling through government files indiscriminately when it passed the Federal Privacy Act in 1974. The act prohibits government agencies from sharing data with each other for purposes that aren't "compatible" with the reason the data were originally collected.

Three Years of WSJ Privacy Insights
The Wall Street Journal is conducting a long-running investigation into the profound transformation of personal privacy in America.

Selected findings:

Companies today are increasingly tying people's real-life identities to their online browsing habits.
Two students are outed as gay—provoking a crisis within their families—by a Facebook privacy loophole . (10/12/12)
Suspicious spouses are taking investigations into their own hands as snooping technologies become cheaper and easier to use. (10/6/12)
Americans' license plates are now being tracked not only by the government, but also by repo men who hope to profit from the information. (10/2/12)
Google bypassed the privacy settings on millions of Web browsers on Apple iPhones and computers— tracking the online activities of people who intended that kind of monitoring to be blocked. (2/17/12)
The government follows the movements of thousands of Americans a year by secretly monitoring their cellphone records . (9/9/11)
iPhone and Android apps secretly shared data about their users, a Journal investigation found. (12/10/10)
Top apps on Facebook transmit personal identifying details to tracking companies, a Journal investigation found. (10/18/10)
One of the fastest growing online businesses is that of spying on Americans as they browse the Web. (6/30/10)
Plus, the global surveillance bazaar , a secretive phone-tracking "stingray" and RapLeaf's clever way of figuring out Web surfers' real names .
See full privacy coverage
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But the Federal Privacy Act allows agencies to exempt themselves from many requirements by placing notices in the Federal Register, the government's daily publication of proposed rules. In practice, these privacy-act notices are rarely contested by government watchdogs or members of the public. "All you have to do is publish a notice in the Federal Register and you can do whatever you want," says Robert Gellman, a privacy consultant who advises agencies on how to comply with the Privacy Act.

As a result, the National Counterterrorism Center program's opponents within the administration—led by Ms. Callahan of Homeland Security—couldn't argue that the program would violate the law. Instead, they were left to question whether the rules were good policy.

Under the new rules issued in March, the National Counterterrorism Center, known as NCTC, can obtain almost any database the government collects that it says is "reasonably believed" to contain "terrorism information." The list could potentially include almost any government database, from financial forms submitted by people seeking federally backed mortgages to the health records of people who sought treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals.

Previous government proposals to scrutinize massive amounts of data about innocent people have caused an uproar. In 2002, the Pentagon's research arm proposed a program called Total Information Awareness that sought to analyze both public and private databases for terror clues. It would have been far broader than the NCTC's current program, examining many nongovernmental pools of data as well.

"If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures," the program's promoter, Admiral John Poindexter, said at the time. "We must be able to pick this signal out of the noise."

Adm. Poindexter's plans drew fire from across the political spectrum over the privacy implications of sorting through every single document available about U.S. citizens. Conservative columnist William Safire called the plan a "supersnoop's dream." Liberal columnist Molly Ivins suggested it could be akin to fascism. Congress eventually defunded the program.

The National Counterterrorism Center's ideas faced no similar public resistance. For one thing, the debate happened behind closed doors. In addition, unlike the Pentagon, the NCTC was created in 2004 specifically to use data to connect the dots in the fight against terrorism.

Even after eight years in existence, the agency isn't well known. "We're still a bit of a startup and still having to prove ourselves," said director Matthew Olsen in a rare public appearance this summer at the Aspen Institute, a leadership think tank.

The agency's offices are tucked away in an unmarked building set back from the road in the woodsy suburban neighborhood of McLean, Va. Many employees are on loan from other agencies, and they don't conduct surveillance or gather clues directly. Instead, they analyze data provided by others.

The agency's best-known product is a database called TIDE, which stands for the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. TIDE contains more than 500,000 identities suspected of terror links. Some names are known or suspected terrorists; others are terrorists' friends and families; still more are people with some loose affiliation to a terrorist.

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Intelligence officials met at the White House in March to discuss the NCTC proposal with John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism adviser.
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TIDE files are important because they are used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to compile terrorist "watchlists." These are lists that can block a person from boarding an airplane or obtaining a visa.

The watchlist system failed spectacularly on Christmas Day 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian man, boarded a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam wearing explosives sewn into his undergarments. He wasn't on the watchlist.

He eventually pleaded guilty to terror-related charges and is imprisoned. His bomb didn't properly detonate.

However, Mr. Abdulmutallab and his underwear did alter U.S. intelligence-gathering. A Senate investigation revealed that NCTC had received information about him but had failed to query other government databases about him. In a scathing finding, the Senate report said, "the NCTC was not organized adequately to fulfill its missions."

"This was not a failure to collect or share intelligence," said John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism adviser, at a White House press conference in January 2010. "It was a failure to connect and integrate and understand the intelligence we had."

As result, Mr. Obama demanded a watchlist overhaul. Agencies were ordered to send all their leads to NCTC, and NCTC was ordered to "pursue thoroughly and exhaustively terrorism threat threads."

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Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center: 'We're still a bit of a startup and still having to prove ourselves.'
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Quickly, NCTC was flooded with terror tips—each of which it was obligated to "exhaustively" pursue. By May 2010 there was a huge backlog, according a report by the Government Accountability Office.

Legal obstacles emerged. NCTC analysts were permitted to query federal-agency databases only for "terrorism datapoints," say, one specific person's name, or the passengers on one particular flight. They couldn't look through the databases trolling for general "patterns." And, if they wanted to copy entire data sets, they were required to remove information about innocent U.S. people "upon discovery."

But they didn't always know who was innocent. A person might seem innocent today, until new details emerge tomorrow.

"What we learned from Christmas Day"—from the failed underwear bomb—was that some information "might seem more relevant later," says Mr. Joel, the national intelligence agency's civil liberties officer. "We realized we needed it to be retained longer."

Late last year, for instance, NCTC obtained an entire database from Homeland Security for analysis, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Homeland Security provided the disks on the condition that NCTC would remove all innocent U.S. person data after 30 days.

After 30 days, a Homeland Security team visited and found that the data hadn't yet been removed. In fact, NCTC hadn't even finished uploading the files to its own computers, that person said. It can take weeks simply to upload and organize the mammoth data sets.

Homeland Security granted a 30-day extension. That deadline was missed, too. So Homeland Security revoked NCTC's access to the data.

To fix problems like these that had cropped up since the Abdulmutallab incident, NCTC proposed the major expansion of its powers that would ultimately get debated at the March meeting in the White House. It moved to ditch the requirement that it discard the innocent-person data. And it asked for broader authority to troll for patterns in the data.

As early as February 2011, NCTC's proposal was raising concerns at the privacy offices of both Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, according to emails reviewed by the Journal.

Privacy offices are a relatively new phenomenon in the intelligence community. Most were created at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. Privacy officers are often in the uncomfortable position of identifying obstacles to plans proposed by their superiors.

At the Department of Justice, Chief Privacy Officer Nancy Libin raised concerns about whether the guidelines could unfairly target innocent people, these people said. Some research suggests that, statistically speaking, there are too few terror attacks for predictive patterns to emerge. The risk, then, is that innocent behavior gets misunderstood—say, a man buying chemicals (for a child's science fair) and a timer (for the sprinkler) sets off false alarms.

An August government report indicates that, as of last year, NCTC wasn't doing predictive pattern-matching.

The internal debate was more heated at Homeland Security. Ms. Callahan and colleague Margo Schlanger, who headed the 100-person Homeland Security office for civil rights and civil liberties, were concerned about the implications of turning over vast troves of data to the counterterrorism center, these people said.

They and Ms. Libin at the Justice Department argued that the failure to catch Mr. Abdulmutallab wasn't caused by the lack of a suspect—he had already been flagged—but by a failure to investigate him fully. So amassing more data about innocent people wasn't necessarily the right solution.

The most sensitive Homeland Security data trove at stake was the Advanced Passenger Information System. It contains the name, gender, birth date and travel information for every airline passenger entering the U.S.

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House Oversight Committee

Mary Ellen Callahan, then-chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security: 'This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public.'
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Previously, Homeland Security had pledged to keep passenger data only for 12 months. But NCTC was proposing to copy and keep it for up to five years. Ms. Callahan argued this would break promises the agency had made to the public about its use of personal data, these people said.

Discussions sometimes got testy, according to emails reviewed by the Journal. In one case, Ms. Callahan sent an email complaining that "examples" provided to her by an unnamed intelligence official were "complete non-sequiturs" and "non-responsive."

In May 2011, Ms. Callahan and Ms. Schlanger raised their concerns with the chief of their agency, Janet Napolitano. They fired off a memo under the longwinded title, "How Best to Express the Department's Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns over Draft Guidelines Proposed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center," according to an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The contents of the memo, which appears to run several pages, were redacted.

The two also kept pushing the NCTC officials to justify why they couldn't search for terrorism clues less invasively, these people said. "I'm not sure I'm totally prepared with the firestorm we're about to create," Ms. Schlanger emailed Ms. Callahan in November, referring to the fact that the two wanted more privacy protections. Ms. Schlanger returned to her faculty position at the University of Michigan Law School soon after but remains an adviser to Homeland Security.

To resolve the issue, Homeland Security's deputy secretary, Jane Holl Lute, requested the March meeting at the White House. The second in command from Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the FBI, NCTC and the office of the director of national intelligence sat at the small conference table. Normal protocol for such meeting is for staffers such as Ms. Callahan to sit against the walls of the room and keep silent.

By this point, Ms. Libin's concern that innocent people could be inadvertently targeted had been largely overruled at the Department of Justice, these people said. Colleagues there were more concerned about missing the next terrorist threat.

That left Ms. Callahan as the most prominent opponent of the proposed changes. In an unusual move, Ms. Lute asked Ms. Callahan to speak about Homeland Security's privacy concerns. Ms. Callahan argued that the rules would constitute a "sea change" because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?

Mr. Brennan considered the arguments. And within a few days, the attorney general, Eric Holder, had signed the new guidelines. The Justice Department declined to comment about the debate over the guidelines.

Under the new rules, every federal agency must negotiate terms under which it would hand over databases to NCTC. This year, Ms. Callahan left Homeland Security for private practice, and Ms. Libin left the Justice Department to join a private firm.

Homeland Security is currently working out the details to give the NCTC three data sets—the airline-passenger database known as APIS; another airline-passenger database containing information about non-U.S. citizen visitors to the U.S.; and a database about people seeking refugee asylum. It previously agreed to share databases containing information about foreign-exchange students and visa applications.

Once the terms are set, Homeland Security is likely to post a notice in the Federal Register. The public can submit comments to the Federal Register about proposed changes, although Homeland Security isn't required to make changes based on the comments.

Write to Julia Angwin at julia.angwin@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared December 13, 2012, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: U.S. Terror Agency To Tap Citizen Files.

Impressed? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276155)

I might be if the article wasn't behind a paywall.

NCTC (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276185)

It all comes down to the ISE

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Sharing_Environment

Hey, hey gauise... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276203)

Remember when people were screaming that Bush was the root of all evil? How's that whole Obama thing working out for you.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (4, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276401)

Poorly, which is why I learned my lesson and voted Libertarian this time.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (2, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276545)

And how did that work out for you?

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (4, Insightful)

anagama (611277) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276767)

I went with Jill Stein. I can say it went great. My vote did not contribute to evil. My vote registered as a protest to both the New GOP (aka Democrats) and the Old GOP (aka Parody-of-Itself). If Obama had lost, my vote may have triggered some New GOP soul searching. Obviously, I'll have to wait another election for any soul searching by the New GOP, but one can always hope.

In fact, I voted a straight "neither GOP nor New GOP" ticket this year and that is my plan till they change their ways. If they never do change their ways, nothing is lost. If they do, much is gained. But by just following the herd, there is absolutely no chance anything will ever get better and an absolute certainty things will get worse. Being a sheep is the worst option.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276769)

As expected. Until the majority stop being complete and utter assholes and idiots, tyranny will continue to grow and take root. If you didn't vote Libertarian, you know who you are.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (1)

LF11 (18760) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276773)

Pretty well, considering that the Libertarian candidate was universally shunned by major media. I confess I feel great about voting with my conscience. My vote wouldn't do much good anyway; I just showed up to vote in all the other elections where individual votes matter more.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276893)

I felt better about voting for what I wanted rather than the lesser of two evils. Soon the party of "free shit" will be out of free shit to give, and the party of "big gubmint" will be out of people to coerce and countries to invade. Let's hope there's a country left after these assclowns get finished with it. Progressives? Conservatives? You're all sheep.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42277033)

A vote for Democrat or Republican is a vote for the status quo and a vote for more tyranny.

How's that working out for all of us? Thanks asshole.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276663)

Ah the 'I want to live in a country like Somalia but can't be bothered to move there' gambit

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (1)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277095)

Ah, a Libertarian vote... I'm sure the NCTC has a nice large folder on you.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (5, Informative)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276445)

If we were to admit that Barack Obama is no less fascist than his predecessors over the past few decades (perhaps even further back), we would be forced to commit the ultimate evil: voting third party. Which I did.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276635)

And what a difference it made. *pffft* Hahahahahahahahaha! *cough* hahahahahahahaha

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276977)

It takes many blocks of limestone before a pyramid towers out high above the desert. Someone has to lay the stones that no one sees.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42277001)

And you think voting one of the other two guys from the major parties would have made a huge difference? *pffft* Hahahahahahahahaha! *cough* hahahahahahahaha

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42277039)

Nope. Leave that strawman alone. He never did anything to you.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (5, Insightful)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276473)

Remember when people were screaming that Bush was the root of all evil? How's that whole Obama thing working out for you.

It wouldn't matter who's the temporary president anyway. President's come and go. All the big businesses and secret gov't agencies are there long before and long afterwards.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276551)

Remember when people were screaming that Bush was the root of all evil? How's that whole Obama thing working out for you.

I'm sure we were screwed on this no matter if douche or turd sandwich was elected.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276733)

Remember when people were screaming that Bush was the root of all evil? How's that whole Obama thing working out for you.

I'm sure we were screwed on this no matter if douche or turd sandwich was elected.

What the hell do you mean "if"...

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276581)

Remember when people were screaming that Bush was the root of all evil?

Well, this agency is his fault, so yes, he was.

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (2, Insightful)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277053)

good point.

bush did create this. he created the war, gave us a reason to keep halliburton and friends rich(er), and put us into debt that we may never get out of, in our generation, at least.

would obama have take us to these 2 unnecessary wars? no, I don't think so.

would he have created all this bush depts to spy on us? no.

would he like to BENEFIT from those that he did not create? YES.

so, he's partially evil for not tearing it down, but he does not get the blame for putting them in place. and yes, that does count. he that throws the first punch is usually the one given the blame for the fight.

I warned of this (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276669)

Remember when people were screaming that Bush was the root of all evil? How's that whole Obama thing working out for you.

Back when the Bush admin was "asserting" Executive power, a few of us raised a warning. One of our points was that any powers that the Bush administration acquired would be bestowed on the next admin - regardless of who's in power next.

Now, I am NOT saying Obama is Evil or Bush was evil. What I am saying is that we should be very concerned with power creep.

Congress and the Judiciary really needs to reign in executive power. Executive power is the only branch where things focus on one person. This isn't for just our Liberty but also for our security.

One day soon, we're not going to be the big dogs in this World and when the new powers that be want to hurt the US, they'll just knock off the POTUS - along with his SS detail.

Think long term people. And watch more history shows on Greece, Rome, Persia, Turkey, Mesopotamia, .....

Re:Hey, hey gauise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276749)

I think it's a case of their shit doesn't stink.

Be afraid of them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276213)

It's what power-hungry people want.

Only the files they already have (4, Insightful)

Sowelu (713889) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276229)

Not collecting much of new data, and it's one agency allowed to centralize it instead of every little local agency keeping it forever. I'd rather have one agency with a long time limit than a hundred agencies with long time limits...just keep the others low.

Re:Only the files they already have (3, Insightful)

pla (258480) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276949)

it's one agency allowed to centralize it instead of every little local agency keeping it forever.

You left out the part where they can then share that aggregated data (including 3rd party private commercial data - such as your credit card history or your medical history - otherwise unobtainable without a warrant) and share it with anyone. Not just other spy orgs, but whomever the hell they feel like chatting with.

Oh gee, forgot to pay use tax on that TV you bought in a neighboring state with no sales tax? No worries, they can forward that right off to your state's revenue service for processing all the appropriate fines! You work for a Catholic school? Hmm, pity how they somehow found out about that abortion. Hiding out from a psycho ex who consider restraining orders nothing more than toilet paper? Oops, he had some info the NCTC wanted, so they traded him a wad of info about you for it.

All fucking legal.


I'd rather have one agency with a long time limit than a hundred agencies with long time limits...

I'd rather have zero agencies allowed to completely ignore those pesky ol' constitutional protections regarding things like due process, search and seizure, and so on.

It's the sharing that I'm concerned about (4, Informative)

elucido (870205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276995)

In information security compartmentalization, least privilege, need to know and other similar concepts are considered a good thing. These concepts exist to security confidentiality of information. But the NCTC has the authority to share the information with anyone according to the ACLU: "Perhaps most disturbing, once information is gathered (not necessarily connected to terrorism), in many cases it can be shared with “a federal, state, local, tribal, or foreign or international entity, or to an individual or entity not part of a government” – literally anyone. That sharing can happen in relation to national security and safety, drug investigations, if it’s evidence of a crime or to evaluate sources or contacts. This boundless sharing is broad enough to encompass disclosures to an employer or landlord about someone who NCTC may think is potentially a criminal, or at the request of local law enforcement for vetting an informant." http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/biggest-new-spying-program-youve-probably-never-heard [aclu.org]

Now it's perfectly understandable that they have to vet informants and sources, investigate terrorism, and defend national security because that is the fundamental purpose of a federal government. Some of that of other stuff however is highly political and some of it gives far too much power to far too few people and is ripe for abuse. "Crime" is vague and could mean literally anything, and I'd be willing to say we are all criminals so that applies to all of us. Drug investigations are highly political because not all of us believe in the war on drugs and in fact a majority of us aren't even for these sorts of investigations in the first place so to include that is highly political and ripe for corruption. To share information with a person not part of a government or with individuals? What reason would they have to ever do that?

The problem I have with the NCTC isn't their spying capability but the fact that they bypassed the Democratic process and the will of the people, and that they aren't following any sort of information security protocol in their sharing. You can share information with people who are cleared, or who have a need to know, but the more you share the more leaks there could be, the more problems there will be. And the more broad the excuse to spy on people the more corruption and oppression there could be in the process. Let's spy on this citizen because they jay-walked or ignored a red light or have a marijuana plant in their closet. So now we got to unleash the full power of the federal government, NSA, CIA, Satellites, and all? That to me is bullcrap and highly political.

For these reasons I think media attention should be brought to this not to get rid of the spy program itself but to restrict it to a narrowly defined purpose. To simply spy on everyone just to give the government power over people and then to spread that power out to random people who aren't even necessarily American citizens is a problem and probably isn't even Constitutional.

Mods? Editors? Counter-insurgency? (2)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276255)

Why would our government care if its citizens participate in activities intended to stop insurgencies? Could we maybe sensationalize this a bit more? I mean seriously, why did you leave even a modicum of hard-fact in this summary?

Re:Mods? Editors? Counter-insurgency? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276275)

Indeed. I'd expect that to be lauded, not hunted!

Re:Mods? Editors? Counter-insurgency? (2)

firesyde424 (1127527) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276385)

[sarcasm]
If our government or governments in general, had a history of abusing unchecked power, I would care... quite a bit actually. But fortunately, since that is not the case and our government can be trusted with the use of power that skirts established law, I am not worried....
[/sarcasm]

Re:Mods? Editors? Counter-insurgency? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276907)

Vigilante justice is justice except in the eyes of the government as it demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the government.
 

In other news... (3, Funny)

dpilot (134227) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276281)

They're banning loud sound in commercials today. Feed the sheeple, maybe they won't notice the NCTC, then.

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276807)

They're banning loud sound in commercials today. Feed the sheeple, maybe they won't notice the NCTC, then.

This was passed a year ago--

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2010/12/calm-act-passed-will-quiet-loud-tv-commercials-within-a-year/

They stole this idea (1)

Sun.Jedi (1280674) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276283)

from the theater [imdb.com] , for theater.

Here you go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276327)

It's the top link on this page: http://tinyurl.com/ctvu6hx

Not surprised (1)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276337)

"If this doesn't wake you up and chill you to your very bone, not too sure there is anything that will anyway."

Call me jaded, I kinda' figured that it's been being done for some time now anyway.

It's fine...nothing to see here... (0)

techsimian (2555762) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276347)

I had this funny feeling it was something to do with Cheney's secret govt. How much easier it will be to do a SQL query and dump it into a new table called TBL_TODO_ARREST_DETAIN.

Everything's fine...you have nothing to worry about if you haven't done anything wrong. We just want to know what size underwear to get you for when you are ... Christmas! For Christmas!...move along citizen...

Glad I left the US for where my data is safe ... (3, Insightful)

acidfast7 (551610) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276361)

Germany! ... am I being ironical or not?

Re:Glad I left the US for where my data is safe .. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276587)

Germany only protects data from corporations, they've been quite open that the government can, will, and has broken into people's houses to bug their computers without what most of us would consider due process.

Re:Glad I left the US for where my data is safe .. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276911)

germany used to have flair they made the Jews wear

CTU and... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276389)

CTU is now here.... but where is Jack Bauer with Jack Bullets, Jack hack skills, Jack Car and other Jack skills.

Fully Immersive Entertainment (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276397)

Finally! We don't need time travel, books or movies to experience the draconian police states envisioned in Orwell's 1984 masterpiece!

Remember when we hated these practices when it was the "Damn Commies" who were doing them? ME NEITHER!
This should be an enlightening experience for all...

For the next incarnation of the government I vote we model it after something a little less dystopian, like Star Trek.

gosh, i wonder if gov protesters will get targeted (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276429)

gosh, i wonder if gov protesters will get targeted. or corporate protesters, or union members, or cult members, or ...you.

glad i don't live in America (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276451)

I was watching a TV program about US human rights abuses. What a dreadful regime.

Data is data... (3, Insightful)

joocemann (1273720) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276457)

...so if Agency X is exempt of a warrant, then Agency X can get the information and then share it. Just like asking facebook not to share your data after the fact --- the moment it was copied before you requested, the copies are out and in the hands of businesses for use. We shouldn't expect any different from our government. If one agency has access, then there is a loophole such that they all can.

Here's the kicker... Obama ran in 2008 being against the patriot act, and extended it last year without question or veto. He might be your man for the job... But how is he at keeping his word on big issues like big brother and warrantless/unconstitutional acts?

Sad (1)

U8MyData (1281010) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276575)

It used to be for the "women and chilren" that obsurd things made their way through government. Now it is all in the name of "National Security". Fear is a powerful motivator and they know it. Just because they can, they will...

Police State (1)

jtnix (173853) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276627)

As I just asserted in another post here on /. today, we are and have been living in a police state for some time now. This is one of the many signs we've had in the past decade.

I guess 'the people' are just slow at recognizing the signs.

counter-insurgency activity (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276631)

'counter-insurgency activity' - AKA supporting the opposing political party. Or being a member of a non Jebus-Approved religion (or none at all).

NCTC (3, Informative)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276645)

Is not an org but a multi-agency center intended to make it easier for various agencies share information and bring their agency's talents to bear in the fight against terrorism.

Re:NCTC (1)

Microlith (54737) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276833)

I wonder how many actual terrorist incidents they've stopped, and if they're more effective than the magic rock on my desk.

Re:NCTC (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42277171)

My bet is on your magic rock, it can at least be parted from its desk. :)

Re:NCTC (2)

elucido (870205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42277139)

Is not an org but a multi-agency center intended to make it easier for various agencies share information and bring their agency's talents to bear in the fight against terrorism.

This would be fine but why is the threat they claim to be facing outlined as being so broad so as to include "crime" in general? Anything could be a crime or made into a crime. Terrorism is highly specific and a threat to national security so there is a reason for the feds to be involved but "crime fighting" isn't the role of the feds.

"Once information is acquired, the new guidelines authorize broad new search powers. As long NCTC says its search is aimed at identifying terrorism information, it may conduct queries that involve non-terrorism data points and pattern-based searches and analysis (data mining). The breadth and wrongheadedness of these changes are particularly noteworthy. Not only do they mean that anytime you interact with any government agency you essentially enter a lineup as a potential terrorist, they also rely on a technique, datamining, "
http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/biggest-new-spying-program-youve-probably-never-hearddited [aclu.org] as a useful tool for identifying terrorists."

I actually disagree with this quote. I support datamining to catch terrorists. So to start off I want to say that.

"Perhaps most disturbing, once information is gathered (not necessarily connected to terrorism), in many cases it can be shared with “a federal, state, local, tribal, or foreign or international entity, or to an individual or entity not part of a government” – literally anyone. That sharing can happen in relation to national security and safety, drug investigations, if it’s evidence of a crime or to evaluate sources or contacts. This boundless sharing is broad enough to encompass disclosures to an employer or landlord about someone who NCTC may think is potentially a criminal, or at the request of local law enforcement for vetting an informant."

http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/biggest-new-spying-program-youve-probably-never-hearddited [aclu.org] as a useful tool for identifying terrorists."

The problem is here. This is very radical. First they want to share it with an entity not part of the government. Why? What entity which is not part of the government should be involved in this and why? The other problem is the sharing can happen basically for ANYTHING, not just national security investigations but evidence of a crime (there are probably so many crimes that any of us could be a criminal under the local, state and federal government so that applies to anyone). There are reasons behind having this capability but they need to be very precise with information sharing and for the reasons why it's shared.

Employers should have a right to know if someone is a criminal, so should landlords, but it shouldn't be abused. How can we prevent it from being abused or used for fishing expeditions?

Lost cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276649)

I find it funny how desperate our country is - we are so scared over what is going to happen in our Unlucky year - it amuses me that we are going to get our ass kicked so bad and it is not going to stop - we are scared because we got caught and we are not the world leader any mroe and entities more powerful than the US are coming down to lawfullly take care of us.

Well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276785)

Honestly, the government is a group of folks. Not a monolithic entity. Chasing terrorists is generally hard. They tend to be in countries without a strong rule of law, or tend to be the law. It is messy. There is risk involved. OTOH, US citizens are statistically pretty nonviolent and law abiding. Government entities want the extra budget, but not the headaches involved in putting folks on the ground in Pakistan or any other country ending in stan.

That said, we don't have strong breaks against that sort of incentive. So, of course, most folks will want toys to look at US citizens rather than actual terrorists.

TFA for those that want to read it (1)

Amiga500_Rulez (988955) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276839)

By JULIA ANGWIN
Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime.

Not everyone was on board. "This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public," Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, argued in the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

A week later, the attorney general signed the changes into effect.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with officials at numerous agencies, The Wall Street Journal has reconstructed the clash over the counterterrorism program within the administration of President Barack Obama. The debate was a confrontation between some who viewed it as a matter of efficiency—how long to keep data, for instance, or where it should be stored—and others who saw it as granting authority for unprecedented government surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.

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. Data about Americans "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" may be permanently retained.

The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.

"It's breathtaking" in its scope, said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.

Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data. "The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes," said Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the parent agency for the National Counterterrorism Center.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution says that searches of "persons, houses, papers and effects" shouldn't be conducted without "probable cause" that a crime has been committed. But that doesn't cover records the government creates in the normal course of business with citizens.

Congress specifically sought to prevent government agents from rifling through government files indiscriminately when it passed the Federal Privacy Act in 1974. The act prohibits government agencies from sharing data with each other for purposes that aren't "compatible" with the reason the data were originally collected.

But the Federal Privacy Act allows agencies to exempt themselves from many requirements by placing notices in the Federal Register, the government's daily publication of proposed rules. In practice, these privacy-act notices are rarely contested by government watchdogs or members of the public. "All you have to do is publish a notice in the Federal Register and you can do whatever you want," says Robert Gellman, a privacy consultant who advises agencies on how to comply with the Privacy Act.

As a result, the National Counterterrorism Center program's opponents within the administration—led by Ms. Callahan of Homeland Security—couldn't argue that the program would violate the law. Instead, they were left to question whether the rules were good policy.

Under the new rules issued in March, the National Counterterrorism Center, known as NCTC, can obtain almost any database the government collects that it says is "reasonably believed" to contain "terrorism information." The list could potentially include almost any government database, from financial forms submitted by people seeking federally backed mortgages to the health records of people who sought treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals.

Previous government proposals to scrutinize massive amounts of data about innocent people have caused an uproar. In 2002, the Pentagon's research arm proposed a program called Total Information Awareness that sought to analyze both public and private databases for terror clues. It would have been far broader than the NCTC's current program, examining many nongovernmental pools of data as well.

"If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures," the program's promoter, Admiral John Poindexter, said at the time. "We must be able to pick this signal out of the noise."

Adm. Poindexter's plans drew fire from across the political spectrum over the privacy implications of sorting through every single document available about U.S. citizens. Conservative columnist William Safire called the plan a "supersnoop's dream." Liberal columnist Molly Ivins suggested it could be akin to fascism. Congress eventually defunded the program.

The National Counterterrorism Center's ideas faced no similar public resistance. For one thing, the debate happened behind closed doors. In addition, unlike the Pentagon, the NCTC was created in 2004 specifically to use data to connect the dots in the fight against terrorism.

Even after eight years in existence, the agency isn't well known. "We're still a bit of a startup and still having to prove ourselves," said director Matthew Olsen in a rare public appearance this summer at the Aspen Institute, a leadership think tank.

The agency's offices are tucked away in an unmarked building set back from the road in the woodsy suburban neighborhood of McLean, Va. Many employees are on loan from other agencies, and they don't conduct surveillance or gather clues directly. Instead, they analyze data provided by others.

The agency's best-known product is a database called TIDE, which stands for the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. TIDE contains more than 500,000 identities suspected of terror links. Some names are known or suspected terrorists; others are terrorists' friends and families; still more are people with some loose affiliation to a terrorist.

TIDE files are important because they are used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to compile terrorist "watchlists." These are lists that can block a person from boarding an airplane or obtaining a visa.

The watchlist system failed spectacularly on Christmas Day 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian man, boarded a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam wearing explosives sewn into his undergarments. He wasn't on the watchlist.

He eventually pleaded guilty to terror-related charges and is imprisoned. His bomb didn't properly detonate.

However, Mr. Abdulmutallab and his underwear did alter U.S. intelligence-gathering. A Senate investigation revealed that NCTC had received information about him but had failed to query other government databases about him. In a scathing finding, the Senate report said, "the NCTC was not organized adequately to fulfill its missions."

"This was not a failure to collect or share intelligence," said John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism adviser, at a White House press conference in January 2010. "It was a failure to connect and integrate and understand the intelligence we had."

As result, Mr. Obama demanded a watchlist overhaul. Agencies were ordered to send all their leads to NCTC, and NCTC was ordered to "pursue thoroughly and exhaustively terrorism threat threads."

Quickly, NCTC was flooded with terror tips—each of which it was obligated to "exhaustively" pursue. By May 2010 there was a huge backlog, according a report by the Government Accountability Office.

Legal obstacles emerged. NCTC analysts were permitted to query federal-agency databases only for "terrorism datapoints," say, one specific person's name, or the passengers on one particular flight. They couldn't look through the databases trolling for general "patterns." And, if they wanted to copy entire data sets, they were required to remove information about innocent U.S. people "upon discovery."

But they didn't always know who was innocent. A person might seem innocent today, until new details emerge tomorrow.

"What we learned from Christmas Day"—from the failed underwear bomb—was that some information "might seem more relevant later," says Mr. Joel, the national intelligence agency's civil liberties officer. "We realized we needed it to be retained longer."

Late last year, for instance, NCTC obtained an entire database from Homeland Security for analysis, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Homeland Security provided the disks on the condition that NCTC would remove all innocent U.S. person data after 30 days.

After 30 days, a Homeland Security team visited and found that the data hadn't yet been removed. In fact, NCTC hadn't even finished uploading the files to its own computers, that person said. It can take weeks simply to upload and organize the mammoth data sets.

Homeland Security granted a 30-day extension. That deadline was missed, too. So Homeland Security revoked NCTC's access to the data.

To fix problems like these that had cropped up since the Abdulmutallab incident, NCTC proposed the major expansion of its powers that would ultimately get debated at the March meeting in the White House. It moved to ditch the requirement that it discard the innocent-person data. And it asked for broader authority to troll for patterns in the data.

As early as February 2011, NCTC's proposal was raising concerns at the privacy offices of both Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, according to emails reviewed by the Journal.

Privacy offices are a relatively new phenomenon in the intelligence community. Most were created at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. Privacy officers are often in the uncomfortable position of identifying obstacles to plans proposed by their superiors.

At the Department of Justice, Chief Privacy Officer Nancy Libin raised concerns about whether the guidelines could unfairly target innocent people, these people said. Some research suggests that, statistically speaking, there are too few terror attacks for predictive patterns to emerge. The risk, then, is that innocent behavior gets misunderstood—say, a man buying chemicals (for a child's science fair) and a timer (for the sprinkler) sets off false alarms.

An August government report indicates that, as of last year, NCTC wasn't doing predictive pattern-matching.

The internal debate was more heated at Homeland Security. Ms. Callahan and colleague Margo Schlanger, who headed the 100-person Homeland Security office for civil rights and civil liberties, were concerned about the implications of turning over vast troves of data to the counterterrorism center, these people said.

They and Ms. Libin at the Justice Department argued that the failure to catch Mr. Abdulmutallab wasn't caused by the lack of a suspect—he had already been flagged—but by a failure to investigate him fully. So amassing more data about innocent people wasn't necessarily the right solution.

The most sensitive Homeland Security data trove at stake was the Advanced Passenger Information System. It contains the name, gender, birth date and travel information for every airline passenger entering the U.S.

Previously, Homeland Security had pledged to keep passenger data only for 12 months. But NCTC was proposing to copy and keep it for up to five years. Ms. Callahan argued this would break promises the agency had made to the public about its use of personal data, these people said.

Discussions sometimes got testy, according to emails reviewed by the Journal. In one case, Ms. Callahan sent an email complaining that "examples" provided to her by an unnamed intelligence official were "complete non-sequiturs" and "non-responsive."

In May 2011, Ms. Callahan and Ms. Schlanger raised their concerns with the chief of their agency, Janet Napolitano. They fired off a memo under the longwinded title, "How Best to Express the Department's Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns over Draft Guidelines Proposed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center," according to an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The contents of the memo, which appears to run several pages, were redacted.

The two also kept pushing the NCTC officials to justify why they couldn't search for terrorism clues less invasively, these people said. "I'm not sure I'm totally prepared with the firestorm we're about to create," Ms. Schlanger emailed Ms. Callahan in November, referring to the fact that the two wanted more privacy protections. Ms. Schlanger returned to her faculty position at the University of Michigan Law School soon after but remains an adviser to Homeland Security.

To resolve the issue, Homeland Security's deputy secretary, Jane Holl Lute, requested the March meeting at the White House. The second in command from Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the FBI, NCTC and the office of the director of national intelligence sat at the small conference table. Normal protocol for such meeting is for staffers such as Ms. Callahan to sit against the walls of the room and keep silent.

By this point, Ms. Libin's concern that innocent people could be inadvertently targeted had been largely overruled at the Department of Justice, these people said. Colleagues there were more concerned about missing the next terrorist threat.

That left Ms. Callahan as the most prominent opponent of the proposed changes. In an unusual move, Ms. Lute asked Ms. Callahan to speak about Homeland Security's privacy concerns. Ms. Callahan argued that the rules would constitute a "sea change" because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?

Mr. Brennan considered the arguments. And within a few days, the attorney general, Eric Holder, had signed the new guidelines. The Justice Department declined to comment about the debate over the guidelines.

Under the new rules, every federal agency must negotiate terms under which it would hand over databases to NCTC. This year, Ms. Callahan left Homeland Security for private practice, and Ms. Libin left the Justice Department to join a private firm.

Homeland Security is currently working out the details to give the NCTC three data sets—the airline-passenger database known as APIS; another airline-passenger database containing information about non-U.S. citizen visitors to the U.S.; and a database about people seeking refugee asylum. It previously agreed to share databases containing information about foreign-exchange students and visa applications.

Once the terms are set, Homeland Security is likely to post a notice in the Federal Register. The public can submit comments to the Federal Register about proposed changes, although Homeland Security isn't required to make changes based on the comments.

Write to Julia Angwin at julia.angwin@wsj.com

Give up America ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276881)

You're no longer free.

Every criticism you might ever make about what another country does that might be shady is now null and void.

I weep, America has turned her back on her principles, and has turned into a nation of sheep whose government is no longer willing to abide by the law.

Time to start using that 4th box [wikipedia.org] , because your government has decided your Constitution is irrelevant. The fact that your courts don't strike this kind of thing down means you have well and truly lost.

Terrorists won (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42276913)

We've become sufficiently terrorized as a nation, that instead of moving on with our lives, we've given up what supposedly we held most dear. Fuck our politicians (regardless of party), and the people who choose them for bullshit reasons.

We are Rome.

Like Others (1)

negativeduck (2510256) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276925)

Like others here I can't get the real article and as such must only comment on the summary. I to read this that an agency is being given permission to look at data that other agency's already have. And in so looking they can create a global view of the activities of those individuals and establish an action. Now, I'm not a lawyer but I assume the premise is that the information they obtained was legally done so under current law so there is nothing horrible going on. Likewise, one would assume that if such information was used and then found to not be legally obtained initially it would then be thrown out. Again from the summary I'm not seeing anything incredibly egregious here or even remotely giving me chills.

Sad part is at first read I thought nctc "NCTC (National Cable Television Cooperative)"

Change You Can Believe In! (2)

lophophore (4087) | about a year and a half ago | (#42276987)

I'd say meet the new boss, same as the old boss, except it is the same damned boss.

So much for the Democrats protecting our civil liberties. More like Obama using the Constitution like a roll of Charmin.

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