New Justice Department rules allowing the government to retain domestic intelligence for up to five years not only infringe privacy, they could end up endangering national security, civil liberties advocates warned on Friday.
On Thursday Attorney General Eric Holder and intelligence officials approved new rules that allow the National Counterterrorism Center to store private information about Americans, even if they aren't suspected of being terrorists, The New York Times reported.
The idea is to give law enforcement and intelligence officials time to revisit information, but the American Civil Liberties Union says the rules could return the U.S. to the days of discredited Bush-era proposals.
"The decades-old rules limiting the collection and retention of U.S. citizen and resident information by the intelligence community and the military existed for a very good reason: to ensure that the powerful tools designed to protect us from foreign enemies are not turned against Americans," ACLU senior policy counsel Michael German said in a statement. "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."
Beyond the privacy implications, by expanding the amount of information retained, officials could find themselves overwhelmed with data, he said. "Making the haystack bigger will only make it harder to find the needle, endangering both privacy and security."
But national security officials told the New York Times that the changes only streamline a process for managing information that the government already has access to.
The Bush administration proposed using databases of electronic records to identify terror groups within the United States. An outcry over the plans, dubbed "Total Information Awareness" after a British television miniseries, led Congress to partially reject them in 2003.