By Pam Benson
The Obama administration has revised guidelines to allow the National Counterterrorism Center access to data about Americans that it can search and store for a longer period of time, even if that information is not related to terrorism.
The revision, announced Thursday night, will allow the center to obtain data from other government databases that include nonterrorism information on U.S. citizens and residents, and retain the material for up to five years.
Guidelines established in November 2008 only allowed the center to keep the information for up to 180 days before permanently removing it.
Attorney General Eric Holder, National Intelligence Director James Clapper and Matthew Olsen, the center's director, approved the updated guideline.
The change was prompted by concern that the intelligence community failed to connect information from a variety of databases that could have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the "Underwear Bomber," from attempting to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas day in 2009.
In a statement, Clapper said the updated guidelines will help better protect the nation from terrorist attacks. "Following the failed terrorist attack in December 2009, representatives of the counterterrorism community concluded it is vital for NCTC to be provided with a variety of datasets from various agencies that contain terrorism information," Clapper said. The ability to search against these databases for up to five years on a continuing basis as these guidelines permit will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively than the 2008 guidelines allowed."
The National Counterterrorism Center was created in 2004 as the government's clearinghouse for terrorism information following the intelligence community's failure to connect the dots before the 9/11 attacks.
Clapper's statement indicated that the guidelines do not provide any new authority to collect information and that all data the center obtains will be subject to safeguards to protect civil liberties and privacy.
However privacy and civil liberties groups warn the new guidelines put the privacy rights of Americans at risk. Michael German, the senior policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that,"Authorizing the 'temporary' retention of non-terrorism related citizen and resident information for five years essentially removes the restraint against wholesale collection of our personal information by the government, and puts all Americans at risk of unjustified scrutiny."