In the movie Minority Report, law enforcement has an elite squad called "Precrime," which predicts crimes beforehand and punishes the guilty before the crime has ever been committed. In yet another example of life imitating art, a blockbuster Wall Street Journal article describes how the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)--an ugly child of the Director of National Intelligence--can now examine the government files of ordinary, innocent U.S. citizens to look for clues that people might commit future crimes. That may sound innocuous, but the breadth and scope of this is a complete departure from the Constitution and laws on the books. Even the Department of Homeland Security is against it.
Unfortunately, until you've had the dubious distinction of being confronted with your own phone records (me), your own e-mails (Tom Drake) and records of your every movement--all obtained without a warrant, but rather with rampant "National Security Letters," most people don't appreciate how invasive and truly frightening it is to have your privacy, innermost thoughts and most intimate details collected by the government, monstrously distorted and used against you in a criminal proceeding.
We used to have a Fourth Amendment in this country. It could be found in the Constitution, which we also used to have. We used to have a Privacy Act and other laws to curb the governnment for indiscriminate surveillance.
But now, the NCTC can copy entire government databases--flight records, health records of anyone treated at a VA hospital, financial forms of people seeking federally-backed mortgages, and records of any family hosting a foreign exchange student--to analyze for suspicious possibilities of behavior. These databases can also be given to foreign governments! Government databases, as distinguished from nongovernmental pools of data of the sort NSA collects, take surveillance to a new level.
We are supposed to rest assured that the data can only be kept for up to five years (I don't know where the NSA's massive storage facility in Utah falls into this equation.) In a "just trust us" moment, counterterrorism officials said they will be circumspect with the data. Fool us once, shame on the government. Fool us over, and over, and over again, shame on us. We're not getting what we deserve, but we are getting what we let happen.
The government has already proven itself utterly incapable of responsibly handling such data. Numerous innocent people, including myself, have been put on the "No-Fly List" and other terrorist watch lists. The government has wiretapped countless Americans without warrants, secretly surveils most everything public, collects massive amounts of citizens' everyday transactional data, and has proven itself completely untrustworthy and willing to violate the law to get information of wholly innocent people.