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Fusion Centers: Mysteries Wrapped in Enigmas of Horrible, Horrible Privacy Risks

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July 29, 2008

Two of the ACLU’s brightest stars on privacy and law enforcement, Jay Stanley and Mike German, wrote a great report last year entitled “What’s Wrong with Fusion Centers?” that outlined, well, what’s wrong with fusion centers. Fusion centers — also known as one-stop shopping for identity thieves — were brought about in a post-9/11 effort to get federal and local law enforcement talking to each other.

Of course we want law enforcement sharing truly relevant information. But hoarding information like medical records, tax information, credit scores, etc. is effectively throwing more hay onto an already massive stack and that won’t make us safer.

Fusion centers, why do we distrust you so? Let me count the ways:

  • Ambiguous lines of authority. Who is the boss of you exactly? So many jurisdictions and no clear lines of authority make us nervous.
  • Private Sector Participants. You’re BFF with those guys. Using private-sector companies and corporations to get information about me makes me worry about who has access to that information. And, frankly, it only makes me like you less.
  • Military Participation. Ever hear of Posse Comitatus?
  • Data Fusion = Data Mining. A lot of hay means a lot of ways to sift through that hay and a lot of hay sifters sifting through that hay. Listen. Bottom line — enough with the hay. You are data mining. Knock it off.
  • Excessive Secrecy. You keep telling me to trust you baby, but you’re always keeping secrets. Without oversight and uniform guidelines that means no real rules and that doesn’t work when you’ve got our information at your fingertips.

In fact, it has already resulted in information theft at Camp Pendleton, Calif.. Check out that link then tell me you’re going to sleep ok tonight knowing police officers and military personnel conspired to steal personal information, transferred it across country and housed in a storage locker in Manassas, Va. A storage locker in Manassas…

Some of you may have heard of the great work done by our Maryland affiliate in the realm of domestic spying. After filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, our colleagues in Maryland received documents outlining the infiltration of nonviolent peace groups and anti-death penalty groups by police officers. Gross. (P.S. Virginia, if you wanted to file your own FOIA on fusion centers you’re too late. Kthxbai!!!!)

Here’s the creepiest part. Fusion centers aren’t just a mystery to us, they’re a mystery to the people running them, the people working in them and the people’s whose information is stored within them. Forget about the left hand, the right hand doesn’t know what any other part of the body is doing. There needs to be strict oversight. There need to be structured, uniform and comprehensive guidelines that protect our sensitive information. Or we’ll likely find it in a storage locker in Manassas.

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