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You, With the Camera! Stop Acting Suspicious!

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April 18, 2008

Mike German, a former FBI agent who currently works as policy counsel for our Washington, D.C. office, wrote in our DailyKos Diary

about how local law enforcement agencies across the country are gathering a curious kind of domestic intelligence on citizens, all in the name of, you guessed it, national security:

The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times both reported on the Los Angeles Police Department’s extensive list of “criminal and non-criminal” behaviors, which LAPD officers are instructed to report as “suspicious activities.” The list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective and First Amendment protected activities as “taking pictures or video footage with no apparent esthetic value,” “drawing diagrams and taking notes,” “espousing extremist views,” and “engaging in suspected coded conversations or transmissions.”

(This kind of crackdown will come as no surprise to New Yorkers, who faced the threat of a ban on photography on the subway and in stations a few years ago, because the MTA and NYPD thought it would deter terrorists from documenting the layout of the subway system. Law enforcement officials scrapped the plan after civil libertarians and photographers fought the law.)

All of this suspicious activity would go straight into your state’s Fusion Center, an information clearinghouse that will store everything law enforcement agencies and the Justice department can get its hands on, including, but not limited to, your financial statements, buying habits, medical records, utility usage, housing history and educational background. And scarier still, states like Virginia are moving to make Fusion Centers exempt from sunshine laws, so a Freedom of Information Act request to know what kind of info the Fusion Center has on you, and what it’s doing with it, will hit a big, fat, dead end.

So put the camera down, and step away slowly…

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