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NCTC Gets Vast Powers To Spy On U.S. Citizens 332

Posted by timothy
from the so-full-of-hope-for-change dept.
interval1066 writes "In a breathtaking new move by (another) little-known national security agency, the personal information of all U.S. citizens will be available for casual perusal. The 'National Counterterrorism Center' (I've never heard of this org) may now 'examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them.' This is different from past bureaucratic practice (never mind due process) in that a government agency not in the list of agencies approved to to certain things without due process may completely bypass due process and store (for up to 5 years) these records, the organization doesn't need a warrant, or have any kind of oversight of any kind. They will be sifting through these records looking for 'counter-insurgency activity,' supposedly with an eye to prevention. If this doesn't wake you up and chill you to your very bone, not too sure there is anything that will anyway."
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NCTC Gets Vast Powers To Spy On U.S. Citizens

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  • Re:Paywalled (Score:5, Informative)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:00PM (#42276293) Homepage

    I mean really. TFS has a link to Wikipedia (OK, now we know what the NCC is and I guess it's not a space ship), then a paywalled article.

    OK, I'm willing to go along with the concept that the US Federal government has gotten even more intrusive however, a little real info would be nice. Very nice. How about taking 30 seconds more and finding a better link [aclu.org].

    I know some feel that the ACLU is a bit on the left wing insane side, but it's a nice balance to the the WSJ right wing insane. And the blog is at least free, readable and nominally interesting.

    tl;dr - we're doomed.

  • Re:Paywalled (Score:4, Informative)

    by danomac (1032160) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:02PM (#42276321)

    Try this link through google search [google.com].

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:08PM (#42276445)
    If we were to admit that Barack Obama is no less fascist than his predecessors over the past few decades (perhaps even further back), we would be forced to commit the ultimate evil: voting third party. Which I did.
  • Re:Paywalled (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:19PM (#42276643)

    Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens—even people suspected of no crime.

    Not everyone was on board. "This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public," Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, argued in the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

    A week later, the attorney general signed the changes into effect.

    More
    A Comparison of the 2008 and 2012 NCTC Guidelines

    The NCTC Controversy -- A Timeline

    Documents
    NCTC Guidelines – 2012

    View Interactive

    .
    NCTC Guidelines -- 2008

    View Interactive

    .
    Homeland Security Department Email about the NCTC Guidelines

    View Interactive

    .
    .
    Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with officials at numerous agencies, The Wall Street Journal has reconstructed the clash over the counterterrorism program within the administration of President Barack Obama. The debate was a confrontation between some who viewed it as a matter of efficiency—how long to keep data, for instance, or where it should be stored—and others who saw it as granting authority for unprecedented government surveillance of U.S. citizens.

    The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.

    Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited. Data about Americans "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" may be permanently retained.

    Enlarge Image

    image
    Closeimage
    Getty Images

    National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in January.
    .
    The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.

    "It's breathtaking" in its scope, said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.

    Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data. "The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes," said Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the parent agency for the National Counterterrorism Center.

    The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution says that searches of "persons, houses, papers and effects" shouldn't be conducted without "probable cause" that a crime has been committed. But that doesn't cover records the government creates in the normal course of business with citizens.

    Congress specifically sought to prevent government agents from rifling through government files indiscriminately when it passed the Federal Privacy Act in 1974. The act prohibits government agencies from sharing data with each other for purposes that aren't "compatible" with the reason the data were originally collected.

    Three Years of WSJ Privacy Insights
    The Wall Street Journal is conducting a long-running investigation into the profound transformation of personal privacy in America.

  • NCTC (Score:4, Informative)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:19PM (#42276645)
    Is not an org but a multi-agency center intended to make it easier for various agencies share information and bring their agency's talents to bear in the fight against terrorism.
  • by elucido (870205) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:38PM (#42276995)

    In information security compartmentalization, least privilege, need to know and other similar concepts are considered a good thing. These concepts exist to security confidentiality of information. But the NCTC has the authority to share the information with anyone according to the ACLU: "Perhaps most disturbing, once information is gathered (not necessarily connected to terrorism), in many cases it can be shared with “a federal, state, local, tribal, or foreign or international entity, or to an individual or entity not part of a government” – literally anyone. That sharing can happen in relation to national security and safety, drug investigations, if it’s evidence of a crime or to evaluate sources or contacts. This boundless sharing is broad enough to encompass disclosures to an employer or landlord about someone who NCTC may think is potentially a criminal, or at the request of local law enforcement for vetting an informant." http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/biggest-new-spying-program-youve-probably-never-heard [aclu.org]

    Now it's perfectly understandable that they have to vet informants and sources, investigate terrorism, and defend national security because that is the fundamental purpose of a federal government. Some of that of other stuff however is highly political and some of it gives far too much power to far too few people and is ripe for abuse. "Crime" is vague and could mean literally anything, and I'd be willing to say we are all criminals so that applies to all of us. Drug investigations are highly political because not all of us believe in the war on drugs and in fact a majority of us aren't even for these sorts of investigations in the first place so to include that is highly political and ripe for corruption. To share information with a person not part of a government or with individuals? What reason would they have to ever do that?

    The problem I have with the NCTC isn't their spying capability but the fact that they bypassed the Democratic process and the will of the people, and that they aren't following any sort of information security protocol in their sharing. You can share information with people who are cleared, or who have a need to know, but the more you share the more leaks there could be, the more problems there will be. And the more broad the excuse to spy on people the more corruption and oppression there could be in the process. Let's spy on this citizen because they jay-walked or ignored a red light or have a marijuana plant in their closet. So now we got to unleash the full power of the federal government, NSA, CIA, Satellites, and all? That to me is bullcrap and highly political.

    For these reasons I think media attention should be brought to this not to get rid of the spy program itself but to restrict it to a narrowly defined purpose. To simply spy on everyone just to give the government power over people and then to spread that power out to random people who aren't even necessarily American citizens is a problem and probably isn't even Constitutional.

  • Re:Paywalled (Score:5, Informative)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:42PM (#42277061) Journal

    If that doesn't work, try the google cache
    https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324478304578171623040640006.html [googleusercontent.com]

    December 12, 2012, 10:30 p.m. ET
    U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens
    By JULIA ANGWIN

    Top U.S. intelligence officials gathered in the White House Situation Room in March to debate a controversial proposal. Counterterrorism officials wanted to create a government dragnet, sweeping up millions of records about U.S. citizens--even people suspected of no crime.

    Not everyone was on board. "This is a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public," Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, argued in the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

    A week later, the attorney general signed the changes into effect.

    Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with officials at numerous agencies, The Wall Street Journal has reconstructed the clash over the counterterrorism program within the administration of President Barack Obama. The debate was a confrontation between some who viewed it as a matter of efficiency--how long to keep data, for instance, or where it should be stored--and others who saw it as granting authority for unprecedented government surveillance of U.S. citizens.

    The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.

    Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases--flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited. Data about Americans "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" may be permanently retained.

    The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.

    "It's breathtaking" in its scope, said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.

    Counterterrorism officials say they will be circumspect with the data. "The guidelines provide rigorous oversight to protect the information that we have, for authorized and narrow purposes," said Alexander Joel, Civil Liberties Protection Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the parent agency for the National Counterterrorism Center.

    The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution says that searches of "persons, houses, papers and effects" shouldn't be conducted without "probable cause" that a crime has been committed. But that doesn't cover records the government creates in the normal course of business with citizens.

    Congress specifically sought to prevent government agents from rifling through government files indiscriminately when it passed the Federal Privacy Act in 1974. The act prohibits government agencies from sharing data with each other for purposes that aren't "compatible" with the reason the data were originally collected.

    But the Federal Privacy Act allows agencies to exempt themselves from many requirements by placing notices in the Federal Register, the government's daily publication of proposed rules. In practice, these privacy-act notices are rarely contested by government watchdogs or membe

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:16PM (#42277621)

    Although his methods and motives are debatable, McCarthy was right - there really were Communists infiltrating the Fed at high levels. Venona? Alger Hiss really was an agent. When Yeltsin came in power, KGB records were made accessible to journalists - and some even took the time to look them over - and revealed quite a bit of stuff.

  • Re:Terrorist! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mephistophocles (930357) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:29PM (#42277859) Homepage
    Here are another couple of links: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/12/12/a-comparison-of-the-2008-and-2012-nctc-guidelines/ [wsj.com] and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324478304578171623040640006.html [wsj.com].

    From what I can tell, it appears to mostly be changes in 1) what information can be gathered, 2) on whom (don't need suspicion of terrorist activity anymore to search through someone's files), 3) how long it can be retained (5 years for innocent people, forever for anyone suspected of criminal activity), and 4) more importantly, the methods that can be used to gather it. In the past, it wasn't possible to do "dragnet" type searches looking for a specific pattern (i.e., show me everyone who searched for "how to make a bomb" on Google in the past 6 months and purchased more than 500 rounds of ammunition), but had to be a search on a specific person of interest (i.e., show me what Mohammad Mohammad searched for on Google last week).

    As far as I can tell, there hasn't yet been a change in what actions can be taken based on the findings in that info, but the groundwork for action without due process has been laid for some time already.
  • Re:Terrorist! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday December 14, 2012 @12:49AM (#42284209)

    "... (don't need suspicion of terrorist activity anymore to search through someone's files)..."

    This is BLATANTLY unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that we do, in fact, have a RIGHT of privacy, because without one, our other "rights" would be unenforceable.

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