Privacy, Civil Liberties, and the Future of Information Sharing
June 4, 2012
This summer, the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program continues its second year-long series on information sharing in security and counterterrorism, sponsored by IBM. Previous events in the series examined the FBI’s evolving information-sharing capabilities; the role of information sharing at the National Counterterrorism Center; and the challenge of balancing information security with the necessity of sharing. An upcoming off-the-record breakfast roundtable with Mark Giuliano, executive assistant director of the FBI National Security Branch, will focus on the future of information sharing, including the challenge of balancing national security needs with privacy and civil liberties concerns.
Since September 11, 2001, information-sharing capabilities and relationships have evolved rapidly, presenting challenges to a relatively static privacy and civil liberties legal architecture. The need to share critical data has led not only to new partnerships between U.S. federal agencies, but increasingly with state and local governments and private industry as well. Further, how information can be collected, shared, and analyzed is continually advancing as new technologies are developed. These rapidly developing capabilities and relationships constantly bump up against the boundaries of privacy and civil liberties laws and policies, which, by their very nature, are slow to evolve. For example, new guidelines extending the duration for which the National Counterterrorism Center can store private information about Americans, including credit card, hotel, visa, and travel information, has drawn criticism from privacy advocates. Further, the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 has raised concerns among some regarding the sharing of information held by private Internet companies with government agencies, demonstrating that the matter of balancing privacy concerns and information-sharing needs remains unsettled.
The need to examine the dynamic between information-sharing efforts and privacy and civil liberties is only likely to grow more pressing as the nature of the threats facing the United States shifts. In recent years, terrorism committed or supported by U.S. citizens or legal residents has become increasingly prominent, necessitating increased discussion regarding the collection, storage, sharing, and analysis of information about U.S. persons, as such efforts raise significantly greater privacy and civil liberties concerns than those taken against foreign threats. The situation is further complicated by U.S. citizens located in foreign countries who may be identified as security concerns. With a disturbing number of U.S. citizens being identified as members of groups like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Shabaab, the U.S. government must consider how to effectively share information with partner countries while protecting the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens. The threat of homegrown terrorism demonstrates the need to consider the future of privacy and civil liberties protections in an environment that will continue to emphasize the sharing of information as a critical component of counterterrorism and homeland security efforts.
Rick “Ozzie” Nelson is director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Casey Hilland is a research intern with the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program. This commentary is part of the program’s second annual year-long series on information sharing in security and counterterrorism, sponsored by IBM.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.