For years now, the ACLU has been sounding the alarm on fusion centers, a post-9/11 phenomena set forth by the government to expand information collection and sharing practices among law enforcement agencies. There are over 70 fusion centers in the U.S., and they've already been making headlines for privacy violations.
Guess what? Here's another. The Texas Observer received documents it was not intended to receive from the North Central Texas Fusion System after filing an open records request. What the Observer received was troubling.
This isn't the first time the North Central Texas Fusion System has been publically called out for suggesting unconstitutional surveillance. Almost a year ago in February 2009, a document was leaked that stated that it was "imperative for law enforcement officers to report" the activities of lobbying groups, Muslim civil rights organizations and anti-war protest groups in their areas.
Along with other documents, the Observer received a PowerPoint presentation that indicates fusion center employees search websites and blog posts for "threatening words," one of which is "protest" (see slide #18). Hear that? It's the sound of your First Amendment protections being deflated.
It seems pretty obvious that the North Central Texas Fusion System (and let's face it, likely other fusion centers) are pulling information off of the web and then distributing it as legitimate law enforcement intelligence, complete with baseless analysis. What does that mean for you? That means that next time you write a protest "comment," it can be sucked up into this, or another, fusion center and regurgitated out as a threat.
We've learned a little about how fusion centers are working, but the amount we know is dwarfed by what we don't. Without across-the-board guidelines or federal mandates, fusion centers are like little privacy-invading snowflakes. Fusion centers need oversight. They need a structured, uniform and comprehensive list of guidelines that protect Americans' private information. So how does that happen? I'm looking at you, Congress.