A U.S. government investigation into two men thought to be teaching people how to pass lie detector tests for government security clearances ended up sharing data on thousands of Americans with no relation to the government.
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McClatchy's Washington bureau reported that the investigation shared a list of 4,904 Social Security numbers, addresses and other information with nearly 30 agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, CIA and the National Security Agency. McClatchy reported that officials with several agencies that obtained the list said they kept it to crosscheck against people who might take polygraphs or for use in criminal investigations.
The list included government employees, but also citizens who were privately employed by companies like Rite Aid and Paramount Pictures, for example.
McClatchy puts the crux of the issue as such:
The unprecedented creation of such a list and decision to disseminate it widely demonstrate the ease with which the federal government can collect and share Americans’ personal information, even when there’s no clear reason for doing so.
“This is increasingly happening – data is being collected by the federal government for one use and then being entirely repurposed for other uses and shared,” said Fred Cate, an Indiana University-Bloomington law professor who specializes in information privacy and national security. “Yet there is no constitutional protection for sharing data within the government.”
McClatchy spoke with people who were on the list and weren't aware that their data was being collected and shared, nor did they understand how the practice was legal.
“When it comes to national security, the government has a lot of leeway,” a lawyer whose government employee husband was put on the list after he purchased a book by the two men being investigated told McClatchy. “But to me, this list raises First Amendment, due process and privacy issues.”
“I’m concerned this may harm his career even though there’s no reason that it should,” the lawyer, who asked that her named not be used, continued. “It’s very alarming and McCarthy-esque in its zeal. To put a person on a secret list because they bought the ‘wrong book’ or are associated with someone who did is overly paranoid."
A nurse who has no ties to any government agencies said the fact that her information is being shared bothers her.
“My information was supposed to be confidential," she told McClatchy.
"What business is it of the government’s if we bought this book?” Joseph Martin, president of the Arizona chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union, said. “We have a right to read about lie detectors and tell our members not to take them.”
The purpose of the list, according to officials, is to stop potential leaks like that which came from former government contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA's classified programs. Snowden had received security clearances giving him access to some material.
Read more details about the case and the sharing of non-government employees data across several agencies in McClatchy's full article.