At a secret White House meeting last March, the Department of Homeland Security argued against a sweeping change in rules covering the way the government collects information on American citizens. The DHS lost.
That's the gist of a cracker of a story reported by the Wall Street Journal's Julia Angwin today (Dec. 13).
Angwin pieced together heavily redacted documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, plus information gleaned from unnamed sources, to establish that the National Counterterrorism Center now has clearance to examine any federal government file on any U.S. resident or citizen and to retain that information for up to five years.
The NCTC will also allow foreign governments to look at the information it collects on U.S. citizens.
Previously, the NCTC could retain information only about people it could prove were connected to a terrorism investigation.
It wasn't an easy battle. The NCTC faced strong opposition to the rule change, partly from the Department of Justice, but mostly from DHS, which, according to Angwin's story, has 100 people devoted to civil-rights and civil-liberties issues.
Despite the objections to the new rules, which one DHS officer called "a sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public," the DOJ overruled the DHS' objections and approved the changes.
The DOJ and DHS staffers who opposed the rule change have since left government service.
Now, the NCTC can request information from any other federal agency — be it Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services or the Internal Revenue Service — on any "U.S. person," which in this context means a citizen, permanent resident, corporation or association.
That means, for example, that the National Counterterrorism Center right now could be looking over your mortgage information, health records, tax returns, grant applications or any other document produced when you interacted with the federal government in any way.
Because every federal agency has its own rules for handling sensitive personal data, each one will negotiate, or already has negotiated, a separate agreement with the NCTC about how its information will be handled and retained.
Information collected by state and local governments does not appear to be subject to the new rules.
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