ACLU Briefs Key House Committee on Privacy

For Immediate Release

ACLU
Contact: 

Mandy Simon or Matthew Allee, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

ACLU Briefs Key House Committee on Privacy

WASHINGTON - The
House Homeland Security Committee hosted a series of roundtable
discussions today to consider the future of privacy, civil rights, and
civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security. Chairman Bennie
Thompson invited scholars and experts from across the country,
including the American Civil Liberties Union, to participate. The ACLU
offered guidance on policies such as federal watch lists, border
security, and increased information sharing among law enforcement -
including the use of fusion centers.

"The
Department of Homeland Security is nearing its first transition to a
new administration, and with this transition comes the opportunity for
a review of what policies and programs do and do not work in keeping
America safe and keeping Americans free," said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU
Senior Legislative Counsel. "One significant area in dire need of
reexamination is our approach to transportation security. For too long,
we have had an out-of-control watch list system intended to keep the
bad guys off airplanes, but when its records number well over one
million, its effectiveness has been negated. The ACLU calls on Congress
and the new administration to scale back the watch lists to contain
only individuals known to have the motive and the access to do America
harm. In doing so, the lists would become far more usable and effective
in keeping our nation safe."

The
ACLU held a press event in October to bring attention to the expansive
powers of customs and border agents, enabling the invasion of the
privacy of individuals at the U.S. border, which the ACLU has labeled
the "Constitution-Free Zone." At the press conference, the ACLU
released a map showing the 100-mile "border region" claimed by the
government, and the cities and states that fall within it. The map,
which was created using the latest census data, shows that two-thirds
of the U.S. population, including nine of the nation's top 10 largest
metro areas, is within the border zone.

"Since
its inception, DHS has treated our borders as areas where the
Constitution does not apply," added Barry Steinhardt, director of the
ACLU Technology and Liberty Program. "Border policies that permit
unwarranted searches and detainment have begun to creep further and
further inland, affecting innocent Americans going about their everyday
lives. As our nation transitions to a new administration, it would be
wise for Congress and DHS to extensively examine the ripple effects of
border policies that are said to be keeping us safe, while honoring the
privacy of innocent Americans."

The
ACLU has updated a previously published report on fusion centers which
documents several instances where state and local police officials
improperly collected and accessed intelligence information in ways that
risk - rather than protect - our security, including improper police
spying on peace advocates in Maryland and law enforcement involvement
in intelligence data thefts in California. Adding to the growing
concerns over information gathering is a troubling Bush administration
proposal to change federal regulations governing criminal intelligence
databases. With both a new Congress and a new administration starting
in January, the ACLU is hopeful that there will be greater oversight
and transparency of domestic intelligence activities and that the
damage done to our civil liberties will be addressed. 

"Over
the last eight years there has been a consistent movement to give law
enforcement increased information sharing power while relaxing
restrictions on information gathering," said Michael German, ACLU
National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent. "Failing
to set proper safeguards now could place every American's privacy in
jeopardy. We need to institute structured, uniform and comprehensive
guidelines that protect our sensitive personal information. Congress
and the new administration have the opportunity to roll back
increasingly unobstructed information gathering and sharing practices.
They should not squander it."

To view the ACLU's Actions for Restoring America, go to:

http://www.aclu.org/transition/

 

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