ACLU Raises Concerns On 9/11 Commission Bill Information Sharing Measure, Provision Could Resurrect Total Information Awareness

September 29, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate continues to debate legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on senators to correct a controversial “information-sharing” provision that, if left in its current form, could lead to the resurrection of the now defunct Total Information Awareness super-snoop program.

“Americans do not want Big Brother following their every move,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Total Information Awareness was abandoned because of privacy concerns raised on both sides of the aisle. The Senate should amend this provision to ensure that law enforcement has access to the tools they need while being mindful of protecting one our most cherished freedoms – the right to privacy.”

At issue is section 205 of the Collins-Lieberman “National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004” (S. 2845). That bill is the leading legislative vehicle in the Senate to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. While the language of the Collins-Lieberman provision better addresses privacy concerns than previous proposals, the ACLU noted that it was still far from perfect.

Specifically, section 205 would create an “Information Sharing Network,” that the ACLU said lacks safeguards to address privacy and civil liberties concerns. If proper changes are not made to the section, the network may evolve to become the successor to the now defunct Total Information Awareness Program.

While section 205 contains no barriers to the use of commercial information, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is expected to introduce an amendment that will limit access to commercial information in this network. The ACLU supports the Wyden amendment.

However, section 205 currently contains no standards for which individuals are placed on, or can be removed from, watchlists and would allow information of dubious value to float around in the network forever, available to any law enforcement officer. Because of the nature of a distributed system like the one proposed in section 205, it would be difficult to subsequently purge any inaccuracies.

In addition, section 205 would create a network of intelligence information about Americans not based on criminal conduct. As the system evolves and its reach expands, some innocent Americans run the risk of becoming suspects without probable cause because their information will be held in private commercial databases.

The ACLU noted that the network envisions broad access for private parties, making the possibilities for employment discrimination and other private party misuse endless.

“Information-sharing, or the lack thereof, may have contributed to the intelligence failures that failed to stop the attacks of 9/11,” added Jesselyn McCurdy, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “However, this approach unnecessarily widens the reach of the government into our private lives; any information sharing initiatives put into practice must balance privacy and wide spread data surveillance fears against the need to share intelligence and law enforcement information.”

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with Congress’s implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s findings, go to:

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