As an innocent American, have you ever wondered how the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) agency gets around your privacy rights when it holds your information in databases for five years to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. . . just in case you might commit future crimes? "All you have to do is publish a notice in the Federal Register and you can do whatever you want," stated Robert Gellman who assists U.S. government agencies in developing policies on how to comply with the Federal Privacy Act.
In March 2012 the Obama administration secretly had Attorney General Eric Holder sign new NCTC guidelines [PDF] so it could store data on all Americans as potential domestic terrorists. Although there was “no public debate or comment,” the ACLU said, “suddenly, every citizen can be put under the terrorism microscope.” The guidelines changed the amount of time NCTC “can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism.”
You are not supposed to worry about it since the agency said it will be “circumspect with the data.” While that seems to imply erring on the side of cautious discretion, there are conflicting facts like the NCTC sharing innocent citizens' information with foreign governments. Yet Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the parent agency for the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Wall Street Journal, “The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes."
There was a secret, bitter fight over the changes within government agencies, according to documents WSJ obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Mary Ellen Callahan, DHS Chief Privacy Officer at the time, said, "The rules would constitute a 'sea change' because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?" Callahan no longer works for Homeland Security.
Her “colleague Margo Schlanger, who headed the 100-person Homeland Security office for civil rights and civil liberties,” was also “concerned about the implications of turning over vast troves of data to the counterterrorism center.” Schlanger said, “"I'm not sure I'm totally prepared with the firestorm we're about to create."
Nancy Libin, Chief Privacy Office for the Department of Justice, also “raised concerns about whether the guidelines could unfairly target innocent people.” Research has suggested “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.” The Justice Department overruled her objections and Libin no longer works for the DOJ.
Previously, NCTC analysts 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." The WSJ also noted how Homeland Security handed over an entire database "on the condition that NCTC would remove all innocent U.S. person data after 30 days." But after 60 days, when the data had neither been uploaded to NCTC, nor had innocent citizens been removed, DHS revoked access to the database.
Sadly, with the new guidelines that is no longer the case and “every federal agency must negotiate terms under which it would hand over databases to NCTC.” And once that happens, then DHS will be required to post a notice in the Federal Register. Sure you can post comments or suggestions, but that notice is all that is required to get around our privacy rights.
NCTC can get hold of any government file on any U.S. citizen to examine it “for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them,” so don't be silly by believing you must break the law first. “NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others.”
“It’s wrong to let NCTC treat Americans as potential terrorists without evidence and without oversight. Holding private information about innocent people in intelligence databases for five years without any suspicion of wrongdoing creates an unacceptable risk to Americans' privacy through error or abuse,” states an ACLU factsheet.
Mike German, the ACLU's Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office wrote, “American citizens and residents should not be considered potential terrorists until the NCTC decides otherwise. Having innocent people's information in intelligence databases for five years without any suspicion of wrongdoing creates an unacceptable risk to Americans' privacy through error and abuse.”
Santa may start anew by tracking naughty behavior each year, but good luck figuring out what 'suspicious behaviors’ all the federal agencies, including NCTC, will consider future terrorism indicators. We may all be (
screwed) in trouble as DHS and FBI potential domestic terrorist lists include dozens upon dozens of innocent behaviors that may flag you such as “using cash,” and being “overly concerned about privacy,” or even “believing in your Constitutional rights”.