The ACLU has filed three Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests to learn more about new guidelines governing data-mining by the National Counterterrorism Center (“NCTC”). Under the new guidelines, the NCTC may aggregate entire federal databases that are “likely to contain significant terrorism information” even if they consist mainly of information about Americans who have no connection to terrorism. They can then store, analyze, and share that data for up to five years. These guidelines expose every American to unjustified government scrutiny.
Before the new NCTC guidelines went into effect in March, 2012, the agency was only allowed to collect information on Americans who were terror suspects or subjects of an investigation. The NCTC was required to identify and discard data collected about any other citizens within 180 days. Under the new guidelines, not only can the NCTC collect information on ordinary Americans from any government database and store that information for up to five years, but it can use that information in its analysis and also share it very broadly, whether or not the information is related to terrorism. Almost no external oversight exists to prevent error or abuse.
Because this radical expansion of government surveillance power was enacted through an update to agency guidelines, rather than an act of Congress, we know very little about how the changes are being interpreted and executed.
On July 31, 2012, we filed FOIA requests with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, demanding that they release records about the new NCTC rules. Our requests seek information about the government’s claimed need for the updated guidelines, and their impact on the privacy of millions of innocent U.S. citizens and residents whose private information is routinely collected in federal databases.
The FOIA Requests: