File extension: US to keep innocent civilians' data 10 times longer

Staff members work on their computers inside the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) (AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards)
The US intelligence community has risen tenfold the time it has the right to keep data on American citizens and legal residents with no established ties to terrorists. Previously all such records had to be destroyed after six months.

­The new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which gathers and shares information among American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, were approved on Thursday.

The previous retention period set in 2008 was “very limiting,” Robert Litt, the chief lawyer for the body which oversees the NCTC, told the Washington 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,” he explained.

"The ability to search against these data sets for up to five years on a continuing basis as these updated guidelines permit will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively," National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr. commented in a statement.

The White House said the new rules come with strong safeguards for privacy. A request to NCYC to share data mined by another agency would require a high-level review.

The news comes amid a heated debate over whether or not the fight against terrorism justifies increasingly large powers the US government wields. Human rights groups are criticizing the administration for things like indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects, assassination of US citizens without a court warrant, promoting citizen spying on neighbors and other policies.

Commenting on the new guidelines, some rights groups stated their concern over the increasing ability of the government to collect and distribute data on its citizens not even suspected of wrongdoing.

American Civil Liberties Union’s national security policy counsel, Michael German believes the watering down of the safeguards in counter-terrorism 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.”

"The fact that this data can be retained for five years on US citizens for whom there's no evidence of criminal conduct is very disturbing," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told AP. He added that the new guidelines undercut the Federal Privacy Act.