It is now being reported that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder secretly gave the U.S. government the authority to create and store dossiers on innocent Americans not suspected of committing any crime, without any debate or approval from lawmakers.
This is hardly surprising since Holder gave the same entity, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) the ability to store the personal information of Americans for up to five years, even without so much as a suspicion of the individual being involved in criminal activity of any kind.
Furthermore, this is the same Attorney General who claimed that secret reviews of classified evidence count as due process when deciding if the executive branch can assassinate Americans allegedly involved in terrorist activity.
While in days past, the NCTC could not store data compiled on U.S. citizens unless they were at least suspected of some terrorist activity or were otherwise relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigation, they not only can collect and store massive databases of private information but also “trawl through and analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior in order to uncover activity that could launch an investigation,” according to Wired’s Threat Level.
It just continues to get worse, if such a thing is even possible. Holder now instituted changes that allow databases filled with U.S. citizens’ private information to be shared with foreign governments for their analysis as well.
Of course, this is all done under the guise of fighting terrorism, something which is patently absurd given that Americans are included in the databases even when they do not have the most tenuous of links to terrorism.
According to one former senior White House official quoted by the Wall Street Journal, the new changes are “breathtaking in scope.” This did not, however, stop counterterrorism officials from attempting to downplay the seriousness of this new development, which was first reported by the Journal.
“The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes,” claimed Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
These types of claims are regularly made, but one must realize that they are likely without much merit seeing as the Obama administration didn’t even have formal drone guidelines while they were killing a 16-year-old American and countless others abroad with unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
Currently, the NCTC’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database houses data on over 500,000 people either suspected of terrorist activity or links to terrorism which includes “friends and families of suspects, and is the basis for the FBI’s terrorist watchlist,” according to Threat Level.
However, the new rules will likely make this database even larger since the NCTC can now gather any and all information they claim is “reasonably believed” to contain “terrorism information.”
This could include – and if the government’s history is any indicator, likely will – personal information ranging from financial forms submitted by individuals attempting to get federally-backed mortgages to health records of individuals who sought out mental or physical healthcare at government-run medical facilities, such as Veterans Administration hospitals.
Similar proposals but forth by the Bush administration in the past were shot down after a great deal of outcry, but it seems that the Obama administration is somehow immune to this type of scrutiny and condemnation.
Threat Level cites the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program which, in 2002, “proposed to scrutinize both government and private databases, but public outrage killed the program in essence, though not in spirit.”
“Although Congress de-funded the program in 2003, the NSA continued to collect and sift through immense amounts of data about who Americans spoke with, where they traveled and how they spent their money,” Threat Level adds.
While the Federal Privacy Act prohibits government entities from sharing private data for any purpose other than that for which it was originally obtained, this is actually only in principle.
In reality, government agencies regularly avoid this restriction “by posting a notice in the Federal Register, providing justification for the data request. Such notices are rarely seen or contested, however,” according to Threat Level.
It seems that the justification being used in an attempt to make this slightly more palatable to the public is the 2009 case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, better known as the underwear bomber.
While they claim that systems like that now implemented in the NCTC are necessary because “Abdulmutallab wasn’t on the FBI watchlist, but the NCTC had received tips about him, and yet failed to search other government databases to connect dots that might have helped prevent him from boarding the plane,” we now know that his father made several calls about his son, all of which were apparently ignored.
Furthermore, eyewitness testimony presented in court and in media reports (see TV news report on the subject here) by practicing lawyer Kurt Haskell makes the entire government narrative look dubious at best.
As Haskell stated in court, “I became further saddened from this case, when Patrick Kennedy of the State Department during Congressional hearings, admitted that Umar was a known terrorist, was being followed, and the U.S. allowed him into the U.S. so that it could catch Umar’s accomplices.”
It just got worse when Haskell noted, “Michael Leiter of the National Counter terrorism Center admitted during these same hearings that intentionally letting terrorists into the U.S. was a frequent practice of the U.S. Government.”
So, is this something that should be remedied by giving the government even more power over the private information of Americans? I see no reason to believe that would help anything at all.
The NCTC claims that their counterterrorism activities were hindered because they “couldn’t look through the databases trolling for general ‘patterns,’” according to the Journal.
While former Department of Homeland Security Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan attempted to defend the rights of Americans by arguing that the new rules were a “sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public,” according to the ABA Journal.
This led to the conclusion that, as Threat Level put it, “every interaction a citizen would have with the government in the future would be ruled by the underlying question, is that person a terrorist?” Callahan ended up losing her battle and subsequently left her position after which she entered private practice.
So are these new powers necessary or justifiable? I seriously doubt it. Let us know what you think in the comments section of this post.
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