New guidelines make counterterrorism information more shareable

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The National Counter Terrorism Center, which serves as a terrorism data clearing house for the intelligence community, enacted new guidelines March 22 on the access, retention, use and dissemination of some information in federal datasets.

While the guidelines don't technically provide NCTC with access to more information or broaden collection practices, they do make information hosted by other agencies more accessible to NCTC and allow data to be retained for a longer period than the previous guidelines, which were issued in 2008.

A copy of the new policy was obtained and posted online by the New York Times.

Previously, NCTC was required to "promptly review" information concerning United States Persons, or USPs, and then "promptly remove" it if it is not reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information. Under the new guidelines, NCTC can retain USP data that is likely to contain significant terrorism information for up to five years, unless another law requires it be removed in a shorter time frame.

There are protections--although still too vague to quell concerned privacy groups--in the new guidelines that check NCTC's ability to excessively claim data sets that include "significant terrorism information," said Alexander Joel, ODNI's civil liberties protection officer in a March 22 statement.

"Before obtaining a dataset, the director of NCTC, in coordination with the data provider, is required to make a finding that the dataset is likely to contain significant terrorism information," he said.

All of the information accessible to NCTC under the rule is already in the lawful custody of other federal agencies, as well. "The guidelines merely provide the NCTC with a more effective means of accessing and analyzing datasets in the government's possession," said the ODNI statement.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement that several government agencies deemed the updated guidelines necessary when it came to light that NCTC did not have access to the right variety of datasets following the failed terrorist attack in December 2009.

The subsequent investigation revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was already on a federal watchlist, and highlighted the need for better searchability across multiple data sets.   

For more:
- see the ODNI-DoJ statement
- view the guidelines

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