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The US has relaxed the restrictions on how counter-terrorism officials obtain and store information, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday.
Counterterrorism officials can now retain information about US residents for up to five years, even if they have no known connection to terrorism, under new guidelines announced by the Obama administration on Thursday.
The center, which was founded in 2004 as a clearinghouse for data used in terrorism investigations by the intelligence community, was formerly required to destroy any information about US citizens or residents after 180 days, unless there was an evident connection to terrorism, according to the Post.
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The new guidelines have been in the works for over a year, and stemmed from the failure to track down Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” before his attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in 2009, the New York Times reported.
They were signed by US Attorney General Eric Holder, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, and NCTC director Matthew Olsen on Thursday, CNN reported.
"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, according to CNN. "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 changes to the rules are also expected to encourage the center to copy entire databases and “data mine” them with the help of algorithms to search for patterns that could indicate a terrorist threat, the New York Times reported.
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Robert Litt, the general counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the counterterrorism agency, called the previous guidelines "very limiting," according to the Post.
"On Day One, you may look at something and think that it has nothing to do with terrorism. Then six months later, all of a sudden, it becomes relevant," Litt told the Post.
Privacy safeguards within the new rules put restrictions on the NCTC’s ability to redistribute information to other agencies, according to the Post. However, some privacy advocates are still concerned about the government's ability to hold on to civilian data for so long.
The purpose of the safeguards is to ensure that the “robust tools that we give the military and intelligence community to protect Americans from foreign threats aren’t directed back against Americans,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security policy counsel Michael German told the Post. “Watering down those rules raises significant concerns that US persons are being targeted or swept up in these collection programs and can be harmed by continuing investigations for as long as these agencies hold the data.”
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