NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Challenge of Interpreting Data on Terrorists

September 27, 2001

The Bush administration is seeking authority to collect vast amounts of information on terrorism suspects, although experts question how the data will be analyzed. Aside from constitutional and ideological considerations, the ability to collect oceans of data isn't necessarily matched by sufficient tools to sort and interpret it.

  • The Bush administration's anti-terrorism bill is said to contain the most sweeping expansion of government surveillance and investigative authority since the Cold War -- involving more wiretaps, Internet monitoring and expanded tracking of students and immigrants.
  • There is already evidence that urgent warnings from Washington aren't getting out to all local police -- with some county authorities now complaining that they have received no advisories on crop-dusting aircraft or people to be on the lookout for.
  • Even Attorney General John Ashcroft has admitted that had the proposals now before lawmakers been in place previously, they might not have done anything to stop the attacks two weeks ago.
  • And senior Justice Department officials say that there is some justifiable skepticism about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's ability to handle the massive amounts of information generated by the current terrorism investigation -- let alone head off future attacks.

Under the legislation now being debated:

  • FBI agents would have far greater leeway to search homes without informing the occupants.
  • Immigrants or resident aliens could be jailed under more circumstances and for longer periods without appearing before a judge.
  • A 1978 anti-espionage law would be broadened to let the FBI use it against alleged terrorists.

And prohibitions on the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency sharing information with domestic law enforcement agencies -- or receiving it from them -- would be at least partially dismantled.

Source: Ted Bridis and Gary Fields, "U.S. Tries to Decide What It Must Give Up to Be Free of Terror," Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2001.

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