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Northern Command (NORTHCOM), established in October 2002, is the U.S. military’s unified command responsible for the defense of the United States and for support to civil authorities engaged in homeland security. The Northern Command is one of nine combatant commands in the U.S. military. (These regional commands include personnel from all four military services under the command of a single, senior flag officer.) The geographical scope of the Northern Command’s responsibility includes the continental U.S., Alaska, Canada, Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, and U.S. coastal waters out to 500 nautical miles. The command’s geographic focus on the domestic U.S. is a significant departure for the U.S. military, which has focused on overseas warfare since the Civil War.
In addition to concerns unique to the military (such as the restrictions on military involvement in law enforcement activity under the Posse Comitatus Act and DoD regulations), NORTHCOM’s mission raises question about what guidelines are necessary to govern the military’s access to information about domestic activities.
|“||In order to defend the U.S. from attack, NORTHCOM has a strong rationale for access to information collected by various intelligence and law enforcement agencies. However, at a certain point, such access could create the perception—or the reality—that the military is spying on U.S. citizens. What type of access should NORTHCOM be given to various types of sensitive data? What types of safeguards need to be established to ensure that this data is used properly?”||”|