White Noise: On Suspicious Activities Like Speaking Excitedly, Taking Pictures of Malls or Buying Large Amounts of Water While Brown-Skinned

Abby Zimet

Sorry, but it's not just electronic. A newly disclosed trove of "suspicious activity reports" filed by police at surveillance hubs, or fusion centers, under the post 9/11 "if you see something, say something" rubric - aka: be afraid, be very afraid - shows that domestic intelligence agencies spend much of their time and our money on racial profiling, privacy violations and dumb tips about people who may or may not be of Middle Eastern descent taking pictures of bridges or other things considered "not typical" by law enforcement officers who'd probably do us all a big favor if they got a real job. The ACLU published scores of summaries of real Suspicious Activity Reports from two California fusion centers, and they are doozies: "Suspicious ME (Middle Eastern) males buy several large pallets of water," a "Middle Eastern male adult physician who is very unfriendly," a "male artist (who) enjoys photographing buildings in industrial areas," a "suspicious upside down American flag seen on big rig," a "suspicious gathering" of individuals "of what appear to be Muslim faith," a “neighbor, one of 4 young clean cut Middle Eastern males, speaking excitedly in a foreign language," etc. Your tax dollars at work. The ACLU and 26 other organizations have called on the Justice Department, FBI and other agencies to set reasonable standards for "suspicious" activity so that innocent people who happen to like taking pictures of dams or shopping centers won't land in anti-terrorism databases for the rest of their lives. And so that our increasingly frayed Constitution might survive.


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