The Obama administration is relaxing restrictions on how counterterrorism
analysts may retrieve, store, and search information about Americans gathered
by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats, says
the New York Times.
Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday signed new
guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center, which was created in 2004
to foster intelligence sharing and serve as a terrorism threat clearinghouse.
The guidelines will lengthen to five years – from 180 days – the amount of time
the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no
suspicion that they are tied to terrorism. The guidelines are expected to
result in the center making more copies of entire databases and “data mining
them” using complex algorithms to search for patterns that could indicate a
Intelligence officials said the new rules grew out of reviews launched after the
failure to connect the dots about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear
bomber,” before his Dec. 25, 2009, attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner.
Government agencies discovered they had intercepted communications by Al Qaeda
in the Arabian Peninsula and received a report from a United States Consulate
in Nigeria that could have identified the attacker, if the information had been
compiled ahead of time. The changes are intended to allow analysts to identify
terrorism suspects more quickly. They set off civil-liberties concerns among
privacy advocates who invoked the “Total Information Awareness” program that
was proposed in the George W. Bush administration and partially shut down by
Congress after an outcry. It proposed fusing vast archives of electronic
records – like travel records, credit card transactions, phone calls and more –
and searching for patterns of a hidden terrorist cell.