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Just a week after James Bamford’s stunning cover story in Wired Magazine informed us that the National Security Agency was building a multi-billion-dollar data center near Salt Lake City which will be (more than just “theoretically,” as of its scheduled 2013 completion) capable of warehousing and data-mining virtually every phone call, email, and database (both public and secured) in the world, we’re now learning, via a lead story in Friday’s New York Times that, yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder signed-off on new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center which enable it to: a.) maintain entire copies of as many databases as that organization sees fit, both via its own efforts and those of “other agencies,” b.) datamine those databases,  and then c.) “…retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said,” for up to five years.

As I noted at the top of my post here on Saturday (see second link in paragraph above)…

I really don’t know where to begin here, so I won’t. Very simply, if you have any doubts that people in the United States maintain ANY rights to privacy, whatsoever, those doubts will be dispelled by James Bamford’s mind-blowing cover story, published online just over 24 hours ago, and appearing in the latest edition of Wired Magazine, “The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say).”
I’ll now amend that for this post to read: “…those doubts will be dispelled by Charlie Savage’s Orwellian news lead in Friday’s New York Times.”

U.S. Relaxes Limits on Use of Data in Terror Analysis
New York Times (Lead Story)
Friday, March 23rd, 2012

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is moving to relax restrictions on how counterterrorism analysts may retrieve, store and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Thursday signed new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center, which was created in 2004 to foster intelligence sharing and serve as a terrorism threat clearinghouse.

The guidelines will lengthen to five years — from 180 days — the amount of time the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said. The guidelines are also expected to result in the center making more copies of entire databases and “data mining them” using complex algorithms to search for patterns that could indicate a threat…

…The changes are intended to allow analysts to more quickly identify terrorism suspects. But they also set off civil-liberties concerns among privacy advocates who invoked the “Total Information Awareness” program. That program, proposed early in the George W. Bush administration and partially shut down by Congress after an outcry, proposed fusing vast archives of electronic records — like travel records, credit card transactions, phone calls and more — and searching for patterns of a hidden terrorist cell.

Upon further reading, we learn that Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, “criticized the administration for not making the draft guidelines public for scrutiny ahead of time.”

Earlier in the piece, Martin stated: “We’re all in the dark, and for all we know it could be a rerun of Total Information Awareness, which would have allowed the government to make a computerized database of everything on everybody.”

The article tells us that national intelligence director James R. Clapper Jr., and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), Matthew G. Olsen, also signed-off on the document.

We learn in the Times’ piece that the NCC will have three “tracks” to obtain data “gathered by another agency”, including: a.) by “doing a limited search itself for certain data,” b.) “by asking another agency to perform such a search,” or, c.) “in cases where neither was sufficient — by replicating the database and analyzing the information itself.”

The article comes right out and states that: “…greater emphasis on the third track” will be facilitated under the new guidelines.

Additionally, we learn that restrictions on “pattern analysis,” which were both technologically and administratively prohibited under the first two tracks, to date, will not apply to databases that the NCC has copied.

Numerous individuals and organizations, such as Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, “voiced concerns about how the guidelines would interact with proposals to give the government greater access to telecommunications information in order to protect critical infrastructure from hackers.”

And, apparently, we’re informed that there’s little or nothing noted in the new guidelines relating to the use and/or acquisition of commercial data (i.e.: credit cards, consumer banking information, travel records, etc.) “that may have been acquired by other agencies.”

However, Friday’s NYT story reminds us of a feature in Wired Magazine from September 2009, where that publication obtained a list of databases acquired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one of the agencies that shares information with the center. It included nearly 200 million records transferred from private data brokers like ChoicePoint, 55,000 entries on customers of Wyndham hotels, and numerous other travel and commercial records.

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UPDATE NOTE: Jesselyn Radack (read more from and about her, below, as well) has just weighed-in on this morning's news on the NY Times' front page. Her post is here: "Govt. Keeping Data on Americans with No Connection to Terrorism."

(Back to the original post, from earlier this morning.)

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As I also noted in last Saturday’s post…

I cannot wait to read fellow Kossack Jesselyn Radack’s take on this mind-numbing news. (For those reading this who aren’t aware of her work, she’s the director of National Security and Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project.) When it comes to “the whistleblowing beat” in this community and in the real world, she has it covered. We are very fortunate to have her as a contributor to this community! (Click on the link above in this paragraph for links to her most recent posts.)

And, speaking of those whom we are very fortunate to have as contributors to this community, also checkout one of our newest Kossack’s, Thomas Drake’s, first couple of posts, also from this past week, “UPDATE: I was First Whistleblower Prosecuted Under the Espionage Act in Recent Government Rampage,”
and “Release of Stevens Report - Why is Welch Still Practicing Law at the Department of Injustice?

Less than 48 hours ago, Ms. Radack posted this (concerning her appearance on Democracy Now with Thomas Drake, and then both of them with author and journalist James Bamford), right on queue: “Fellow Kossack Thomas Drake and I on Democracy Now Discussing NSA's Warrantless Spying.”

Based purely upon the information reported by Jim Bamford in Wired, last week, and the lead in today’s NY Times, it is fully self-evident to this author that by sometime next year we will all be living in an age of Total Information Awareness, where the government has virtually immediate access to all information—private and public, including all emails, phone calls and data—about everyone, 24/7/365.

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