Not just the NSA – FBI’s data mining needs scrutiny, as well


We recently learned that the National Security Agency has a database with the records of almost every phone call made in the U.S. To address public concerns over its surveillance activities, the agency has begun to explain how it uses the metadata — information including when calls are made, how long they last and to whom they are placed — it has accumulated over the last seven years.

Although Americans deserve this explanation, they shouldn’t delude themselves. Even if the NSA’s controversial program were shut down tomorrow, another government agency that is busy collecting and retaining personal data would keep humming along. True accountability for the government’s surveillance activities should also include an airing of — and tighter restrictions on — the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s power to collect and store substantial amounts of innocuous information about Americans.

Since 2008, for instance, the FBI has had the authority to conduct “assessments” — investigations that require no suspicion of criminal activity. In service of these low-level investigations, an FBI agent may use various invasive methods, including infiltrating public meetings of groups as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union or Alcoholics Anonymous, using informants, and even putting the target of the investigation under full-time physical surveillance…

From 2009 through 2011, according to data provided by the FBI, the bureau spent a significant amount of its limited time and resources conducting almost 43,000 assessments related to either counterterrorism or counterintelligence. Fewer than 5 percent of them turned up any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing…

And what does the FBI do with all of the information it has gathered on innocent Americans?…All information it collects is kept and sometimes shared, “regardless of whether it furthers investigative objectives,” because it may “eventually serve a variety of valid analytic purposes” — even if that means keeping the information in an FBI database for as long as 30 years

The federal government’s use of “suspicious activity reports” tells a similar story…One would think a suspicious-activity report that provided no evidence of possible terrorist threats would be discarded immediately. To the contrary, even a report without any link to terrorism is kept in a widely available FBI database for six months, in a separate classified database for five years, and in yet another FBI database for at least 25 more years.

If you’re taking the time to stick your finger in the eye of Congressional politicians over Big Brother NSA – take the opportunity to nudge Beltway hacks about Big Brother’s doddering Grandpa, the FBI. Oversight policies established a number of time are shoved into the storage closet as soon as citizens and our supposedly watchful Free Press return to ignoring the day-to-day activities of our federal coppers.

The same technology that put the NSA on the map is being used to keep the original model for government snooping in full employment.

One thought on “Not just the NSA – FBI’s data mining needs scrutiny, as well

  1. Brian D. Buckley says:

    Good point. The focus has been on the NSA. I hadn’t thought much about the FBI, but now I will.

    By the way, if you’re as concerned as I am about these domestic surveillance programs, you should know there’s a movement dedicated to restoring our Fourth Amendment rights:

    They’re planning nationwide protests this week, among other things.

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