FBI's Eye on Las Vegas Vexes Gaming Industry

FBI has pulled data on all casinos' customers; industry concerned at FBI sweeps

Under the new law, the government has been able to conduct sweeps on vast numbers of unnamed individuals without cause and it has admitted preserving the information in perpetuity.

The Post article estimated that more than 30,000 national security letters are served on companies every year, each of which may sweep up information on thousands of individuals, as they have in Las Vegas.

The Post article said the data mining in Las Vegas started at the end of 2003 as part of an emergency operation, thought to be the first of its kind in the country.

The Department of Homeland Security declared an orange alert on Dec. 21 of that year, in part because of intelligence that hinted at a New Year's Eve attack in Las Vegas.

The FBI sent a little-known Proactive Data Exploitation Unit to assemble a real-time census of every visitor in the city.

Government and private- sector sources described epic efforts to vacuum up information.

An interagency task force began pulling together the records of every hotel guest, everyone who rented a car or truck, every lease on a storage space, and every airplane passenger who landed in the city.

The operation remained secret for about a week before it was reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Under former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's revised policy, none of the information that was gathered has been purged. The Post reported the whole operation found no suspect, and the orange alert ended on Jan. 10, 2004.

"The whole thing washed out," one participant said.

Peck said there is every reason to believe the government is still abusing the law on a massive scale.

The national ACLU is litigating a case involving an affected individual that neither it nor Peck can discuss.

"The gag order is part of the law and has a profound chilling effect on discussing the policies, even on the ACLU," Peck said.

Fahrenkopf said any use of national security letters to solicit private information on seemingly innocent individuals constitutes an unacceptable intrusion on the privacy of our customers.

"Asking our companies to surrender records, (possibly) chronicling everything from where our visitors eat and what shows they see to what souvenirs they purchase and how much they gamble -- and making that information available to various sectors of the government and some private businesses -- simply goes too far," he said.

<<Las Vegas Review-Journal (KRT) -- 11/11/05>>