Over-Zealous Intelligence Gathering Warrants Strict Congressional Oversight, ACLU Testifies

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

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

Over-Zealous Intelligence Gathering Warrants Strict Congressional Oversight, ACLU Testifies

WASHINGTON - The
American Civil Liberties Union testified today before a House
subcommittee about the strong need for oversight in intelligence
gathering and dissemination at the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS). The Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information
Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment hearing examined  the definition of "homeland security intelligence;"  the
Department's role in developing it as a new intelligence discipline;
and how the Department and others can provide state, local and tribal
authorities with national threat awareness while building privacy and
civil liberties protections into the process.

"It
is patently false that the more information we have, the more secure we
are," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington
Legislative Office. "Unfortunately, DHS has been over-zealous in its
information gathering and innocent Americans have been caught in the
web of suspicion.  From its involvement in the
surveillance of Maryland peace groups to intrusive laptop searches at
the border, DHS seems to see every American as a potential criminal.
DHS cannot continue to vacuum up benign intelligence."

The
ACLU noted in its testimony that "homeland security" is a relatively
new and exceptionally broad concept that combines protecting against
traditional threats from hostile nations, terrorists and other criminal
groups with responding to outbreaks of infectious disease, natural
disasters and industrial accidents. While these are all important
missions, taking such an unfocused "all crimes, all hazards" approach
to intelligence collection poses significant risks to our individual
liberties, our democratic principles and, ironically, even our
security. Problems inherent in the way the intelligence community
produces "intelligence" limit its reliability, rendering suspect its
value in improving security. The ACLU testified alongside other privacy
advocates as well as law enforcement professionals.

The
ACLU has long been concerned with what it perceives to be a steady
infringement on Americans' privacy under DHS policies including the
department's implementation of warrantless laptop and electronic device
searches at America's borders and the department's involvement in
fusion centers. Fusion centers were created in the wake of 9/11 to
expand information collection and sharing practices among law
enforcement agencies, the private sector and the intelligence
community. The ACLU has been a harsh critic of the centers, releasing a
report calling for comprehensive and stringent privacy guidelines among
other recommendations.

 "It's
up to Congress to conduct regular and vigorous oversight of DHS and to
cut off funds if its programs are unnecessary, ineffective or prone to
abuse," added Fredrickson. "The bottom line is that DHS intelligence
programs should not compete with other federal programs. DHS must
assess what state, local and other federal agencies need from DHS
intelligence programs that they are not currently receiving from other
sources. Congress should demand empirical evidence that these programs
actually enhance security before funding them, particularly where they
impact the rights and privacy of innocent Americans."

To read the ACLU's testimony, go to:

http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/39047leg20090318.html

To read the ACLU's report on fusion centers, go to:

www.aclu.org/fusion

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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