The American Spark
Privacy Watchdogs Fear Bush's Data 'Fusion Centers'
By Cliff Montgomery - Oct. 5th, 2007
Privacy worries increase with state-run "fusion centers" created to assist law officers investigating 'suspicious'
individuals and groups, said non-governmental watchdog groups to a Homeland Security Department (DHS)
committee in late September.
Over 40 regional, local and state centers have been created in recent years. Numerous bills currently before
Congress at least partly concern the centers. These "fusion centers" are bankrolled by the combined dollars of
the DHS and the states.
As is perhaps sure to occur with such an uneven method of funding, the centers also lack a uniform structure.
A Congressional Research Service study published in July discovered that the sophisticated intelligence
centers "have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach." Such a use
of these organizations worries privacy watchdogs, who pointed out the possible abuses of this change to DHS'
Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.
Mike German, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representative and former FBI agent, told
Technology Daily--a news organization affiliated with National Journal Magazine--that the fusion centers are
"not really working as they are supposed to."
The "mission creep" may come to produce serious privacy issues for American citizens--a great number of
whom do not even know that the centers exist, he added.
A 125-page Department of Justice handbook published in August 2005 discussed many possible changes for
the centers, "but it's unclear whether those guidelines have been adopted by every fusion center," German
He also told Technology Daily that the ACLU, which is releasing a report dealing with fusion centers this
month, further worries that handing over many center tasks to private-sector groups and non-law enforcement
agencies may "create information-sharing relationships that don't require the legal process that is required
The recent situation in Iraq, where agents of the private security firm Blackwater USA stand accused of killing
several innocent Iraqi citizens in September, shows what may happen when private companies--which are not
directly accountable to the people for their actions--take over sensitive law enforcement duties.
Sharon Bradford Franklin of The Constitution Project wrote Technology Daily in an email that she hoped to
discuss with DHS panelists her organization's published guidelines for the controversial use of video cameras
to spy on the American people.
Technology has surged ahead of American law, she wrote in the email, adding that the Constitution Project's
study has created practical community guidelines for video spy systems that better preserve citizens' civil
liberties and privacy rights.
She also hoped to mention her group's study on ensuring greater accuracy for government watch lists--a set of
lists now infamous for their inaccuracies and poor quality.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) went farther at the meeting, saying that the location, amount
of funding for each center and its jurisdiction must be disclosed to the public to ensure preservation of
Americans' most basic liberties. They called for a suspension of federal funding for the projects until a
comprehensive privacy-impact analysis may be conducted.
EPIC further called for a probe by the DHS inspector general into the fusion centers, and for each center to
publish annual reports on the types of arrests, prosecutions and convictions it accomplishes, and how each
action directly relates to the center's operations.
"There are too many unanswered questions regarding the creation, purpose and use of fusion centers," wrote
EPIC Associate Director Lillie Coney in written testimony.
Robert Riegle, DHS point person for the fusion centers, Lt. Jeff Wobbleton of the Maryland State Police and
Sue Reingold from the director of national intelligence office said that the centers are working, but admitted
that there is need for improvement.
Riegle said the centers are "a novel and different approach to information-sharing," and of course claimed that
privacy was a major Bush Administration concern when the centers were created.
If Mr. Riegle still wishes to maintain a blind faith in the final aims and competency of his bosses in the
administration, that is his affair. But less and less Americans are willing to maintain such a child-like faith in this
White House...and for good reason.
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