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Context of '2002: US Agencies Evade Law by Using Private Database on US Citizens'

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Robert Fuller, an inexperienced FBI agent, searches for hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the US on this day (see September 4-5, 2001). He claims that his search includes querying the ChoicePoint database. ChoicePoint is one of several companies maintaining commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. The FBI has a contract to access the ChoicePoint database, but none of the others. Fuller supposedly does not find any record on either Alhazmi or Almihdhar. He suggests this is because of variations in the spelling of names. However, the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm that although the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will conclude the database was not searched, and notes, “Searches of readily available databases could have unearthed” their California drivers’ licenses, car registrations, and telephone listings. Thomas Pickard, acting FBI Director at the time this search is made, will later falsely claim in public testimony before the 9/11 Commission that the FBI was not allowed to search the ChoicePoint database before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539; US Department of Justice, 11/2004; New York Observer, 11/28/2004] An FBI timeline put together shortly after 9/11 will mention that Alhazmi’s 2000 San Diego phone number was in the ChoicePoint database. The exact spelling for the phone number listing was Nawaf M. Al Hazmi. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 59 pdf file]

Entity Tags: ChoicePoint, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Robert Fuller, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI and Defense Department begin paying ChoicePoint, a private data-collection company, for access to its data-searching system. Neither agency is legally permitted to keep database records on US citizens, but they are effectively able to circumvent this law by contracting the task to ChoicePoint. Both agencies have steadily expanded their relationship with the company. Exactly what kind of data is being accessed and the legality of doing so remain murky. [Government Executive, 11/11/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, ChoicePoint, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The FBI begins compiling a database of information about US citizens (see October 25, 2005). The database, ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft, uses as one of its primary sources information gleaned through so-called “National Security Letters,” or NSLs, which are documents ordering US citizens to reveal private information about their clients, relatives, or employees. Ashcroft overrides a 1995 guideline that mandates the destruction of such information obtained through NSLs if it proves “not relevant to the purposes for which it was collected.” Ashcroft orders the FBI to compile the information in its database, and even tells the agency that it can freely share that information with other government agencies if it desires. Ashcroft also orders the FBI to develop “data mining” technology to probe for “hidden links” among the citizens in its growing cache of electronic data. The FBI complies, using the same technology used by the CIA, which itself is barred from keeping such files on US citizens. Ashcroft extends the mandate even further, allowing the FBI to compile consumer data from private data-collection firms such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, though Ashcroft’s predecessors had ruled that compiling such data would violate citizens’ constitutional rights to privacy. Soon, FBI field offices will have access to ChoicePoiint databases in their squad rooms. Adding this commercially provided data to the NSL-based data gleaned by the FBI, and the FBI will soon have a wealth of data on hundreds of thousands of US citizens never accused of a crime. Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, and many others, strenuously object to the practice, but their concerns are largely ignored. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Robert “Bob” Barr, LexisNexis, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Letters, John Ashcroft, ChoicePoint

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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