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The National Security Agency isn’t the only arm of the government to compile a massive, secretive database with information on American citizens. The FBI has also been rapidly expanding its Investigative Data Warehouse, which the bureau says now contains nearly 700 million records (in May, the figure was 560 million), including birth dates, Social Security numbers, and intelligence cables from overseas. But that database, and the way the bureau has gone about developing it, has drawn a challenge from the privacy advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The suit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the FBI is not in compliance with the Privacy Act of 1974, a post-Watergate law that requires federal agencies to publish a “notice of the existence and character” of large volumes of records containing personal data about citizens. The suit also charges the FBI with being in violation of two other disclosure laws and seeks to force the bureau to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for records about the database’s scope and effect on privacy rights. “It’s a little hard to believe that there could be hundreds of millions of records involving just suspected terrorists,” says David Sobel, a lawyer for the EFF. A spokesman for the FBI issued a written statement pointing out that the database is merely an agglomeration of “lawfully acquired data from other established databases,” and that the agency has conducted internal reviews to ensure the data warehouse protects privacy interests.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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