Back in 1974, people noticed the Federal Government’s various bureaucracies were getting hold of much more information on citizens than they used to. Back then there also were still people who understood the threat of fascism and who read George Orwell’s 1984. “Big Brother Is Watching You” was a source of fear, not of comfort and security. So Congress passed the Federal Privacy Act. No one is allowed to share information for any other purpose than the reason the data was collected in the first place. Otherwise, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. If the FBI wants to look at your flight records in a anther Federal database, because they think you are smuggling, they have to obtain a warrant if the data was not originally collected for the purpose of discovering if you are smuggling.
That protection is dead. The 1974 law made it all too easy for agents to circumvent. It simply requires “notice” in the Federal Register. And that loophole has been exploited by the National Counter Terrorism Center. Since March, the NCTC can access just about any Federal database that it claims it can be “reasonably believed” to hold “terrorism information.”
So everything is now open. If you have applied for a federally backed mortgage or sought treatment at the VA hospital, and someone at NCTC wants to go fishing to see if they can find a crime, they can do it.
Back in 2002, when the Pentagon started going through both public and private databases, the uproar caused Congress to defund the “Total Information Awareness Program.” That, at least, is what Yahoo News claims. But, of course, it is possible that it simply became the National Security Agencies secret program.
Whatever any Agency may or may not be doing, the fact remains that the Wall Street Journal has proven, through Freedom Of Information Act requests, that the NCTC, is accessing all federal databases without a warrant and even without a real suspicion of criminality. They are simply looking to see what they can find. The reason there has been no pushback is because their decision to begin this practice was made in secret.
Like the nudie scanners, the reason for the new invasion of privacy comes from the underwear bomber—a moron who only endangered himself. The underwear bomber was almost certainly a government stooge and his “attack” was much like the many FBI “stings” we read about, in which it turns out that agents use “informants” to actually recruit terrorists and help them plan attacks. But, no matter how lame it is, any excuse to destroy the Bill of Rights is sufficient for our political masters.
Since that time, the NTCT kept finding obstacles to tracking all the date regarding “innocent persons.” On the excuse that someone who seems innocent now might someday turn out to be guilty, the NTCT pushed against all those legal limits.
No surprise, Attorney General signed off on the new rules to allow NTCT new and unfettered access. A couple of people who had pleaded and begged and argued to protect the privacy of innocent Americans have now left for private practice.
The Wall Street Journal reporters who kept at their story deserve our thanks. If it wasn’t for their FOIA requests, though many of the documents were redacted, we wouldn’t know this story at all.
And, by the way: this practice doesn’t protect the US from real threats. The first thing you have to do to detect patterns is eliminate “noise.” As preparation for the power of blackmailing or threatening all Americans, the NTCT program makes sense. As protection from terrorism, it makes no sense.
The government is, by Fourth Amendment standards, treating every man, woman, and child in the US as a terrorism suspect. I wonder if the government will understand that many Americans are going to respond to this new state of affairs by returning the favor.