Congress Must Set Restrictions on Information Gathering
WASHINGTON - As
a key House subcommittee met for a hearing entitled "A Report Card on
Homeland Security Information Sharing," the American Civil Liberties
Union today urged subcommittee members to ask the witnesses tough
questions to ensure information sharing benefits our security without
endangering the rights of innocent Americans. The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment heard
testimony from national and local security experts about efforts to
increase information sharing among law enforcement, including the use
of fusion centers.
The ACLU is
concerned that the push to expand domestic police intelligence
authorities without strict and clear guidelines will result in abuse. Indeed,
the ACLU recently published an updated report on intelligence fusion
centers which documents several instances in which 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.
"Just as fusion
centers expanded law enforcement's opportunities to collect, analyze
and share personal information, Congress has the obligation to make
certain that information is properly protected," said Caroline
Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Law
enforcement needs to share truly relevant information, but gathering
innocuous information about Americans' ordinary activities is merely
throwing more hay onto an already massive stack. That won't make us safer. There
needs to be strict oversight and there needs to be structured, uniform
and comprehensive guidelines that protect our sensitive information."
Adding to growing
concerns over information gathering is a troubling new Bush
Administration proposal to change federal regulations governing
criminal intelligence databases. The proposed changes would ease
restrictions regarding when state and local law enforcement can collect
personal information, and all but remove limitations on when and with
whom they can share this intelligence. One proposed amendment would double the amount of time police agencies can keep information without reviewing it for accuracy. Those
changes, combined with the increased usage of the vaguely defined
suspicious activity reports (which allow law enforcement to monitor and
record banal activity such as "using binoculars"), could mean that
fusion center employees all over the country will have both highly
sensitive and highly ambiguous information at their fingertips.
"The movement to
give law enforcement limitless information sharing power, while
simultaneously relaxing restrictions on information gathering, is a
recipe for disaster," said Michael German, ACLU National Security
Policy Counsel. "Information sharing cannot work if those
doing the gathering and sharing are not forced to abide by bright line
restrictions that forbid the gathering and sharing of sensitive
information about people not suspected of being involved in illegal
activity. Congress has the opportunity now to begin
setting boundaries on increasingly unobstructed information gathering
and sharing practices. Failing to set proper safeguards now could place every American's privacy in jeopardy. Congress has an obligation to prevent information sharing from becoming a privacy-destroying monster."
To read the ACLU's comments on the rule change to 28 CFR Part 23, go to:
To read the ACLU's updated report on fusion centers, go to:
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