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    In the News: Quoted in USA Today article about privacy laws

    I’m quoted in a USA Today story about the investigation into the alleged Fort Hood shooter. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated Maj. Nidal Hasan before the shootings occurred, but “did not tell the Pentagon that he had exchanged 10 to 20 e-mails with a radical Muslim cleric.” U.S. Senate committees will soon hold hearings on the investigation. The FBI, and others, cited constraints on evidence-sharing. “There are limits on sharing information on U.S. persons,” said former Department of Homeland Security intelligence chief Charles Allen to USA Today. “There are issues of privacy, civil rights and civil liberties, and those are taken very seriously.”

    A recent New York Times article reported, “Officials familiar with the work of the Washington task force said the Hasan assessment was one of hundreds involving government employees undertaken each year. Such inquiries can be hampered, they said, by privacy laws that prevent the sharing of personal information about someone unless it reflects evidence of wrongdoing or a potential threat.”

    In a press release, the FBI said, “Standard protocols — based on federal law, regulations, and policy, including the Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts — govern information handling in federal task force settings, including JTTFs. JTTF-generated information may only be disseminated outside the structure of the JTTF (including to a member’s home agency) with the approval of the JTTF FBI supervisor. In this case, following the review and analysis conducted by investigators, there was a conclusion made by the investigator and the supervisor that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or planning. Further dissemination of the information regarding Major Hasan was neither sought nor authorized.” If the investigators concluded Hasan was not a threat, then there would not have been reason to share evidence about him.

    In the USA Today story, I urged against placing the blame on privacy laws. I don’t know which specific privacy law provisions are believed to have restricted investigation into Hasan. The Privacy Act of 1974, for example, has exemptions for law enforcement purposes. Note the quote above from the New York Times story says: “privacy laws that prevent the sharing of personal information about someone unless it reflects evidence of wrongdoing or a potential threat” (emphasis mine). The investigator made the decision about whether Hasan was a plausible potential threat. The privacy laws, as described by article’s sources, would not have prevented investigation into or data-sharing about a plausible potential crime or threat. I urged against shifting the focus from the investigatory process.

    By the way, I don’t know why I was identified as the “publisher of the Privacy Lives newsletter.” I write the posts on this site, but I do not distribute a newsletter.

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