In a secret government agreement granted without approval or debate from lawmakers, the U.S. attorney general recently gave the National Counterterrorism Center sweeping new powers to store dossiers on U.S. citizens, even if they are not suspected of a crime, according to a news report.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder granted the center the ability to copy entire government databases holding information on flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and other data, and to store it for up to five years, even without suspicion that someone in the database has committed a crime, according to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story.
Whereas previously the law prohibited the center from storing data compilations on U.S. citizens unless they were suspected of terrorist activity or were relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigation, the new powers give the center the ability to not only collect and store vast databases of information but also to trawl through and analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior in order to uncover activity that could launch an investigation.
The changes granted by Holder would also allow databases containing information about U.S. citizens to be shared with foreign governments for their own analysis.
A former senior White House official told the Journal that the new changes were “breathtaking in scope.”
I am left to wonder whether the same people who tried to make a partisan issue about civil liberties during the Bush administration will say anything regarding this expansion of government power. In the overwhelming majority of cases, I am willing to bet that the answer is “probably not.”
As for the new powers given to the National Counterterrorism Center, I don’t know what good it will do to have the government keep tabs on millions of Americans who are not suspected of having broken any laws whatsoever, and who are not engaging in any activities that could remotely be considered illegal in nature. Indeed, if anything, this new authorization would seem to overwhelm law enforcement and counterterrorism officials with information on people who have not committed and likely never will commit any crimes. It’s anyone’s guess how we are supposed to stop terrorism by focusing so much of our energies on monitoring the activities of people who will never be terrorists.