Today, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration declassified and released additional documents revealing broader National Security Agency (NSA) collection of phone call and Internet data — collections that violate a secret court order.
The documents also raised questions concerning the NSA’s closure of a program that collected “metadata” on email and other Internet communications. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence declassified and released the documents, and officials in the intelligence and law-enforcement communities defended the NSA activities at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
The NSA’s collection of personal data is in addition to the activities of the little-known National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which has quietly continued its update of internal polices to expand its electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens. This surveillance extends even to persons who have not committed — and are not suspected to have ever committed — any crimes whatsoever.
The NCTC, which was established in 2004, states on it website that the Center’s mission is to “Lead our nation’s effort to combat terrorism at home and abroad by analyzing the threat, sharing that information with our partners, and integrating all instruments of national power to ensure unity of effort.”
Now, under its expansive surveillance rules, the NCTC can copy entire government databases at the federal, state and local levels, and obtain information from private databases (such as from credit cards companies, internet search engines, email providers, and cell phone providers) concerning any U.S. citizen. The NCTC can keep that data for up to five years, and permanently retain data about Americans “reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information. The NCTC can then analyze that information for evidence of future crimes that might –or might not — be committed.
“In effect,” the ACLU warns, the U.S. government is “using information it gathers for its ordinary business to turn its own citizens into the subjects of terrorism investigations.” As Mary Ellen Callahan, the former Chief Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security said in opposition the expansive NCTC rule changes:
the rules would constitute a “sea change” because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?