Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 6, 2006

UPI: Bill proposes new counterterror privacy exemptions

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Christian Beckner on June 6, 2006

Shaun Waterman at UPI writes today on a provision in Sec. 310 of the Senate’s version of the FY 2007 intelligence authorization bill (S. 3237) that would establish a new exemption to the Privacy Act on a three-year test basis that would allow intelligence agencies to share information related to counterterror or counterproliferation investigations that is not personally identifiable.
The same provision was included in the Senate’s version of the authorization bill last year, which was never passed into law. That conference report explains the background and rationale for the provision – scroll down to Sec. 307 – and the language is nearly identical this year.

The proposal draws a predictable response from the ACLU in the UPI story:

“If this is enacted, the Privacy Act will look like Swiss cheese,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Tim Sparapani said.

Mr. Sparapani said he was not reassured by the role that the law envisages for the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which would monitor the program and report to Congress as the three-year sunset approached.

“The board is stacked four [Republicans] to one [Democrat],” he said.

“It is not truly independent” because it is inside the president’s own office, which puts it “under the thumb of the president and his advisers.”

But it receives an unfazed response from an anonymous Democratic staffer:

A Democratic committee staffer defended the proposal, saying the exemptions were “narrowly drawn to address the kinds of problems we found during our September 11 inquiry” when U.S. agencies failed to pool information about known al Qaeda militants, who were, thus, able to slip into the country.

I agree with this latter response. Inadequate information-sharing among federal agencies prevented the possible disruption of the 9/11 plot, and numerous analyses – most notably those of the Markle Task Force and the 9/11 Commission – have highlighted the need for better information-sharing among key counterterrorism agencies. This legislative proposal seems consistent with their sensible recommendations.

I’m not sure that this exemption will make much of a difference in terms of counterterror effectiveness, given the fact that the primary inhibitors of information-sharing among intelligence agencies today are cultural factors, not legal restrictions. But I don’t see any harm in having a pilot project to test the proposition.

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