Tag Archives: civil liberties

New Terrorism Guidelines Represent Further Triumph of Lawyering and an Independent IC

“U.S. eases restrictions on keeping citizens’ data,” The Washington Post broke last night.

“U.S. Relaxes Limits on Use of Data in Terror Analysis,” now says The New York Times.

“U.S. Agencies Allowed to Keep Residents’ Data for Five Years,” says Bloomberg.

“Government Now Allowed to Store Info on Innocent Americans,” says Antiwar.com.

Let the game of telephone begin: liberties stolen; privacy over.

Yesterday, the Director of National Intelligence and Attorney General released what they call “updated guidelines designed to allow NCTC to obtain and more effectively analyze certain data in the government’s possession to better address terrorism-related threats.”

The “Guidelines for Access, Retention, Use, and Dissemination by the National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) of Information in Datasets Containing Non-Terrorism Information,” the DNI and Justice Department say in their press release, allow the NCTC to “better protect the nation and its allies from terrorist attacks” while “at the same time protecting privacy and civil liberties.”

The updated Guidelines, the government says, “do not provide any new authorities for the U.S. Government to collect information.”

I received a copy of the new guidelines from the DNI press office at 7:53 PM last night, but I note that the 32 page document is not readily available (as of 9 AM the day after the release) on either the DNI or Attorney General’s websites.

I don’t think there’s a conspiracy here, but I do think if you read the actual document and aren’t familiar with existing guidelines and the ifs, ands, and buts of government regulations, you could easily come away concerned.

And thus constitutes the divide, the divide between Washington and the rest of the nation, between the national security imperative and the colloquial understanding of liberty as practiced by the rest of the country.  The usual suspects of the civil liberties industry (and I don’t mean to disparage them) and the anti-government set (from gun-toters to olive-branchers) will decry; talking heads promoting public slumber will counsel calm; the media will muddle.

Meanwhile the government’s lawyers will satisfy themselves and reassure – as they did in their tortured legal justification sanctioning the summary assassination of an American citizen – that it’s all in accordance with applicable laws.  If you’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the problem?, the agents of idiocy will bellow.

The NCTC, the actual document says, “shall not access, acquire, retain, use, or disseminate United States person information solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment or monitoring the lawful exercise of other rights secured by the Constitution or other laws of the United States.”

Any information received must be reviewed to ensure that it is terrorist-related, the guideline says, that is, “based on the knowledge and experience of counterterrorism analysts as well as the facts and practical considerations of everyday life.”

It’s all pretty straightforward, except that these rules only apply to the National Counter-terrorism Center.  And they leave open possibilities – indeed the likelihood – that the national security establishment will over-reach, that an overzealous someone will bend and stretch the rules and their intent, heck, that this has already been done, is already being done, which is why new Guidelines were required.

The NCTC, the Guidelines say, receives its information from federal, state, local governments and “other sources,” “other entities,” “data providers,” none of whom are named.  Any abuses, in other words, will take place elsewhere.

As long as Washington is lost in its terror war, as long as the intelligence community remains beyond accountability, as long as lawyers justify anything as legal, what is already happening in America will continue to happen.  It isn’t a government conspiracy; it’s an American erosion occurring because we haven’t figure out yet either how to deal with the abundance of information the government feels justified to collect and analyze and we haven’t figured out how to deal with the basic criminal threat that terrorism represents.