US loosens limits on how data from spying on citizens can be used, stored, shared

An NSA agent reacts to the new rules governing information acquired through domestic surveillance.

At the New York Times, a story by Charlie Savage on new guidelines signed into law Thursday by US Attorney General Eric H. Holder for the National Counterterrorism Center, created in 2004 to "improve 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.

This can only be good for democracy and freedom!

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Mr. "underwear bomber," is the straw man to thank. Intelligence officials said the new rules relaxing data restrictions have been under way for a year and a half, and emerged from reviews launched after the failure to "connect the dots" before the tightie whitie terrorist tried to bomb a plane in 2009.

One specific point of concern for privacy advocates is that the new rules make no mention of how commercial data (credit card records, airline ticket logs) can be used. Again, from Savage's NYT piece:

In 2009, Wired Magazine 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.

Here's that Wired News report from 2009.

(photo: Shutterstock/Yuri Arcurs)