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­.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens

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U.S. Capitol building


The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) implemented a new program in March that allows the agency to copy entire government databases and examine information about U.S. citizens in order to detect possible terrorist activity. The program allows NCTC to keep millions of records about U.S. citizens who have committed no crime for five years, while data about Americans that is "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" can be kept indefinitely.

NCTC had previously been prohibited from storing information about U.S. citizens unless they were terror suspects or related to an investigation in some other way, but the U.S. Attorney General approved intelligence officials' requests for broader access to the data. The program also allows the federal government to share the databases with other countries so that they can analyze them as well. NCTC says the changes were needed to address the intelligence shortcomings surrounding the failed bombing of an airliner on Dec. 25, 2009.

Critics say the program is similar, although not nearly as broad, as the Pentagon's controversial Total Information Awareness program, which was defunded by Congress in 2003. That program would have analyzed both public and private databases for terrorist leads.

From The Wall Street Journal
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