Friday Dec 14, 201209:52 AM GMT
'US begins unprecedented surveillance on innocent citizens'
Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:50AM
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The Situation Room in the White House

A recent review of a relatively unknown program run by the National Counterterrorism Center shows innocent people can be investigated and their data can be kept for years.


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. WSJ


The President seems to think any government measure, no matter how unconstitutional, is perfectly acceptable so long as this meaningless stipulation is uttered along with it: “Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data”. Antiwar


In effect, the U.S. government is using information it gathers for its ordinary business to turn its own citizens into the subjects of terrorism investigations. ACLU


Meanwhile, all of this is supposed to be against the law. The Privacy Act of 1974 says that information collected by the federal government for one purpose is not supposed to be used for another. ACLU



Warrantless surveillance of telephone calls, text messages and emails has shot up dramatically in recent years, according to Justice Department documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union in September.


The documents show that real-time monitoring of electronic communications jumped 60 percent from 2009 to 2011. The Hill


National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney said in Mid July that the U.S. government is secretly gathering information “about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country” in “a very dangerous process” that violates Americans’ privacy. Antiwar


Today, Americans can be subject to search and seizure without a warrant, detained or imprisoned indefinitely, without charge, without evidence, without a lawyer, without a trial, or even tortured or assassinated merely for being accused of being associated with terrorism.


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