FBI Data Mining And Collection Programs Threaten Privacy Of Innocent Americans

For Immediate Release

Contact: 
Mandy Simon, (202) 236-7031 or 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

FBI Data Mining And Collection Programs Threaten Privacy Of Innocent Americans

Massive System Growing Exponentially Without Oversight

WASHINGTON -
The
FBI and its National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) have
collected 1.5 billion records from public and private sources for a
massive data mining operation, according to documents recently obtained
by Wired magazine. The records collected by the FBI include financial
records from corporate databases, such as hotel and rental car company
transactions; millions of “suspicious activity reports” from financial
institutions; millions of records from commercial data aggregators; a
multitude of law enforcement and non-law enforcement government
databases; and public information gleaned from telephone books and news
articles. The NSAC records include the FBI’s Investigative Data
Warehouse, which was identified in a 2007 Department of Justice
Inspector General report as the database storing information collected
by the FBI through the use of National Security Letters (NSLs). 
 
“Once
again, the FBI has been found to be using invasive ‘counterterrorism’
tools to collect personal information about innocent Americans,” said
Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington
Legislative Office. “It also appears that the FBI has continued its
habit of gathering bulk amounts of personal information with little or
no oversight.”
 
The
USA Patriot Act vastly expanded the FBI’s authority to collect
information about people it does not suspect of wrongdoing, including
financial, credit and communications information, using NSLs and
enhanced suspicious activity reporting requirements from banks, casinos
and car dealerships. Congress is beginning to debate these and other
Patriot Act provisions set to expire at the end of this year.
 
“The
Patriot Act continues to allow the FBI to collect detailed private
information about Americans without suspicion of wrongdoing,” added
Macleod-Ball. “As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Patriot
Act, it needs to determine exactly how the FBI is using its
intelligence collection tools and what it is doing with the information
it collects about innocent Americans.”
 
The
documents obtained by Wired also point to a possible resurrection of
the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. Shortly after 9/11, the
government sought to build TIA, a mammoth data mining operation that
would trawl through an extensive list of databases containing personal
information about Americans – including communications, medical,
travel, education and financial data – in an attempt to detect
supposedly "suspicious" patterns. Congress shut down the program amid
bipartisan objections that it was the most far-reaching domestic
surveillance proposal that had ever been offered. The ACLU has long
suspected that the congressional dissent over and public demise of the
Pentagon’s TIA program would result in a concealed and more invasive
version of the program.

“It is not only troubling that the
FBI is collecting this vast amount of information, but also that the
information remains in the possession of the FBI, whether or not it is
relevant to suspected criminal activity or reliable,” said Christopher
Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The way this collection and
retention works, if you happened to be staying at the same hotel or
renting a car the same day as someone currently under FBI
investigation, your private information is swept up and locked into one
of these databases forever. The presumption of innocence is turned on
its head and everyone becomes a suspect.”

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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