The new guidelines, which were approved Thursday by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., have been in the works for more than a year, officials said.
The guidelines have prompted concern from civil liberties advocates.
Those advocates have repeatedly clashed with the administration over a host of national security issues, including its military detention without trial of individuals in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, its authorization of the killing of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, and its prosecution of an unprecedented number of suspects in the leaking of classified information.
Officials said the guidelines are aimed at making sure relevant terrorism information is readily accessible to analysts, while guarding against privacy intrusions. Among other provisions, agencies that share data with the NCTC may negotiate to have the data held for shorter periods. That information can pertain to noncitizens as well as to “U.S. persons” — American citizens and legal permanent residents.
The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., has signed off on the changes.
“A number of different agencies looked at these to try to make sure that everyone was comfortable that we had the correct balance here between the information-sharing that was needed to protect the country and protections for people’s privacy and civil liberties,” said Robert S. Litt, the general counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NCTC.
Although the guidelines cover a variety of issues, the retention of data was the primary focus of negotiations with federal agencies. Those agencies provide the center with information such as visa and travel records and data from the FBI.
The old guidelines were“very limiting,” Litt said. “On Day One, you may look at something and think that it has nothing to do with terrorism. Then six months later, all of a sudden, it becomes relevant.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government has taken steps to break down barriers in information-sharing between law enforcement and the intelligence community, but policy hurdles remain.
The NCTC, created by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, collects information from numerous agencies and maintains access to about 30 data sets across the government. But privacy safeguards differ from agency to agency, in some cases hindering timely and effective analysis, senior intelligence officials said.