The Wall Street Journal
has a compelling read on some previously undisclosed government infighting over domestic surveillance, and the significant new surveillance powers granted to the National Counterterrorism Center. According to documents obtained by the Journal
, the last decade of unprecedented domestic spy power expansion has been taken to an entirely new level -- one of gathering all
information on everyone, even non-criminal suspects, and then analyzing it to try and ferret out those who might
perform future crime.
The National Counterterrorism Center has been given broad new powers to take and analyze a massive net of data, ranging from flight logs to whether you're hosting a foreign exchange student. The most pertinent bit from the Journal
is quite stunning, and I'm quoting the entire thing because it's important:
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.
Combine this with the fact that intelligence agencies now undeniably (based on the testimony of several NSA and telecom whistle blowers) have real time wiretap access to all Internet communications
, and it becomes clear we're entering an era previously only rambled about by those with tin foil headwear or named Phillip K Dick. Worse perhaps is the fact that, as the Journal
notes, that those concerned about balancing responsibility and accountability alongside security continue to be minority voices in government.