The Obama administration wants to maintain the secrecy of terrorist watch-list information it routinely shares with federal, state and local agencies, a move that rights groups say would make it difficult for people who have been improperly included on such lists to challenge the government.
Intelligence officials in the administration are pressing for legislation that would exempt “terrorist identity information” from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Such information — which includes names, aliases, fingerprints and other biometric identifiers — is widely shared with law enforcement agencies and intelligence “fusion centers,” which combine state and federal counterterrorism resources.
Still, some officials say public disclosure of watch-list data risks alerting terrorism suspects that they are being tracked and may help them evade surveillance.
Advocates for civil liberties and open government argue that the administration has not proved the secrecy is necessary and that the proposed changes could make the government less accountable for errors on watch lists. The proposed FOIA exemption has been included in pending House and Senate intelligence authorization bills at the administration’s request.