U.S. Intelligence Agencies Keep Non-Terrorist Data on Americans Up to 75 Years

Friday, October 25, 2013
(graphic: uselessdata.org

The post-9/11 era of government spying has resulted in intelligence agencies storing information on law-abiding Americans for up to 75 years, according to a new study (pdf) by the Brennan Center for Justice.


In what’s been described as the first report of its kind regarding U.S. intelligence gathering, the Brennan Center examined the many ways that the federal government collects, shares, and stores data on average Americans.


The comprehensive look at five intelligence agencies uncovered this critical finding: that non-terrorism-related data can be kept for up to 75 years or more. This disturbing practice can result in overloaded national security databases and opportunities for abuse by government officials, the center said.


The investigation found “that in many cases, information carrying no apparent investigative value is treated no differently from information that does give rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal or terrorist activity. Basically, the chaff is treated the same as the wheat,” the report states.


The Brennan Center urged the government to implement multiple reforms, including:


  • Ensuring that policies governing the sharing and retention of information about Americans are accessible and transparent.


  • Prohibiting the retention and sharing of domestically-gathered data about Americans for law enforcement or intelligence purposes in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.


  • Reforming the Privacy Act of 1974, which the center claims has fallen short of its goal of protecting the privacy of Americans’ personal information.


  • Increasing public oversight over the National Counterterrorism Center, which the Brennan Center describes as “a massive federal data repository that increasingly is engaged in large-scale aggregation, retention, and analysis of non-terrorism information about Americans.”


  • Requiring regular audits of federal agencies’ retention and sharing of non-criminal information about Americans.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

What the Government Does with Americans' Data (Overview, by Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Brennan Center for Justice)

What the Government Does with Americans' Data (by Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Brennan Center for Justice) (pdf)

CIA Strategy: Collect All Data and Keep it Forever (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama and Holder Remove Restrictions on Gathering and Keeping Data about All Americans (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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