On a mission to detect untrustworthy employees, nearly 30 government agencies collected and shared the personal information of thousands of Americans, many of whom had no ties to the federal government.
A list of 4,904 people was created by US officials investigating two men for allegedly teaching people how to pass polygraph tests. This list was shared with agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the CIA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Security Agency (NSA), who then entered the names in their database. They are keeping the list in the event that one of the flagged individuals submits to a lie detector test for a federal job.
As McClatchy reports, however, a large number of names on the list belong to individuals who don’t work for the government. Some were firefighters, nurses, police officers, Rite Aid employees, American Red Cross employees, a cancer researcher, and more.
Many of the marked individuals never actually received instruction from the two polygraph instructors under investigation, nor did some even contact the suspected teachers, they merely bought a book or DVD from one of the men, and many wanted to pass a polygraph test for personal reasons rather than for employment purposes.
This data collection program doesn’t come anywhere close to the size of the tracking efforts carried out by the NSA, but some say it raises even more questions about the government’s ability to keep tabs on people who may not even be related to any ongoing investigation.
“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,” Fred Cate, an Indiana University-Bloomington law professor who specializes in information privacy and national security, said to McClatchy. “Yet there is no constitutional protection for sharing data within the government.”