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Fusion Centers: Too Much (Bad) Information

Fusion Centers: Too Much (Bad) Information

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:32pm
The official verdict is finally in, thanks to a congressional report out today: state and local law enforcement intelligence “fusion centers” funded by the Department of Homeland Security are failing to safeguard both our constitutional rights and our security.

The Erosion of Posse Comitatus

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:26pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Remember Esequiel Hernandez, Jr.? "Junior," as he was known, was an American teenager shot and killed in 1997 by U.S. Marines as he tended a flock of goats near his home one evening in Redford, Texas. The Marines, fully armed and dressed in camouflage ghillie suits, were operating on U.S. soil as part of a covert counter-drug mission supporting the Border Patrol. They were not supposed to come into contact with civilians; rather they were just to observe and report what they saw to the Border Patrol. But Junior had a .22 caliber rifle with him, and it appears he fired at least one shot from it that evening. What he was shooting at isn't clear. The Marines looked more like tumbleweeds than men, and none of them were hit. But as war-fighters, Marines are trained to engage a threat until it is destroyed, without asking a lot of questions. While this mission orientation is essential in combat, it is a poor fit with the shades-of-gray world of domestic policing. In any event, they followed their military "rules of engagement," advanced their position and returned fire, killing Junior with a bullet to the chest.

The reason I bring this incident up is that it demonstrates the risks of using military forces in domestic law enforcement missions. From their colonial experience, the framers of the Constitution recognized the threat a standing army posed to democracy, and they sought to establish a government that guaranteed civilian control over the military. This ideal was finally codified after the Civil War through the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibited the Army from engaging in law enforcement activities.

The Posse Comitatus Act should have prevented what happened to Junior. But Congress has weakened Posse Comitatus over the years to involve the military in drug enforcement, border control and all sorts of other "domestic support" operations. Today, the number of domestic missions the military is accepting and the number of troops it is deploying inside the U.S. is drastically increasing, making future tragedies like Junior's only more likely.

FBI Official Agrees with ACLU: Suspicionless Surveillance is Ineffective and Counterproductive

FBI Official Agrees with ACLU: Suspicionless Surveillance is Ineffective and Counterproductive

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:11pm

This week a high-level FBI official made some welcome comments on the NYPD's spying on New York City's Muslim communities and organizations that mirror the ACLU's own position on the suspicionless surveillance.

As you know, we at the ACLU…

The Government's 9/11 Secrecy Obsession

The Government's 9/11 Secrecy Obsession

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project & Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:16pm

Our government lost its way after 9/11 in many different respects. One of them was to worsen what had already been long apparent as one of the most significant problems with our security establishment: its out-of-control habit of secrecy.

The…

Is the Spying Comey Approved More Important Than the Spying He Opposed?

Is the Spying Comey Approved More Important Than the Spying He Opposed?

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:05pm

What's worse than waterboarding and letting the government wiretap Americans without warrants? It's not a riddle; it is a question we need James Comey to answer, particularly if President Obama nominates him to lead the FBI for the next 10 years.

You…

Who’s a Radical Now?

Who’s a Radical Now?

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:10am

The Bipartisan Policy Center published a report last week called, “Countering Online Radicalization in America,” which strongly endorsed First Amendment principles in rejecting censorship as an appropriate tactic for addressing violent…

How to Improve Terrorist Watchlists

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:28pm

(Originally posted on Freep.com)

We quickly learned that the would-be bomber who sought to bring down Flight 253 just before landing in Detroit on Christmas Day was in a terrorist database, but still allowed to board the plane. As a result,…

Why Protect Whistleblowers?

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:49pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

In the weeks leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, FBI officials denied a New York agent’s request to start looking for a known al Qaeda operative who had entered the United States,…

FBI's Civil Liberties History: Palmer Raids to Racial Profiling Guidelines

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:28pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Since its inception 100 years ago this week, FBI has been assigned with an increasingly difficult task: protecting the public welfare in a free and democratic society.

Throughout its…

Government Extends Time it Can Retain Info on Innocent Americans in Counterterrorism Databases

Government Extends Time it Can Retain Info on Innocent Americans in Counterterrorism Databases

By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:29pm

The Obama administration has extended the time the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) can collect and hold on to records on U.S. citizens and residents from 180 days to five years, even where those people have no suspected ties to terrorism.…

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