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After the attacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001, the govern­ment’s author­ity to collect, keep, and share inform­a­tion about Amer­ic­ans with little or no basis to suspect wrong­do­ing dramat­ic­ally expan­ded. While the risks and bene­fits of this approach are the subject of intense debate, one thing is certain: it results in the accu­mu­la­tion of large amounts of innoc­u­ous inform­a­tion about law-abid­ing citizens. But what happens to this data? In the search to find the needle, what happens to the rest of the haystack?

For the first time in one report, the Bren­nan Center takes a compre­hens­ive look at the multiple ways U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies collect, share, and store data on aver­age Amer­ic­ans. The report, which surveys across five intel­li­gence agen­cies, finds that non-terror­ism related data can be kept for up to 75 years or more, clog­ging national secur­ity data­bases and creat­ing oppor­tun­it­ies for abuse, and recom­mends multiple reforms that seek to tighten control over the govern­ment’s hand­ling of Amer­ic­ans’ inform­a­tion.