ACLU Skeptical of Information Sharing at Fusion Centers, Upcoming Report on Fusion Centers to be Released by the ACLU

September 27, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC –The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about fusion centers today. Fusion centers are federal, state, local and regional units, designed to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different branches of state, local and federal governments. Wary of potential privacy risks, the ACLU will soon be releasing a report on the 42 fusion centers that have opened in the United States.

“When the government collects and stores data on citizens it must abide by strict privacy guidelines,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The public has a fundamental right to know what information the government is collecting about them, how that information is gathered, who has access to it and how it is being used. Effectively sharing information among police agencies is a laudable goal, but when the information being collected includes the intimate personal details of the lives of innocent Americans then there must be safeguards.”

The ACLU’s concerns include the participation of non-law enforcement agencies, private sector entities, national guardsmen and even active-duty military officials in some fusion centers. This mass collaboration gives rise to even more significant concerns about the roles these parties play in the collection and analysis of the private information concerning Americans.

Not all fusion centers are engaging in improper intelligence activities and not all fusion center operations raise privacy concerns but, given that some do, the lack of a legal framework to regulate their activities is troublesome. The ACLU does not intend to criticize any particular fusion center, but rather ask that the public be provided with basic information about what fusion centers do so there can be more informed questions regarding the intelligence collection activities taking place in their communities. ACLU affiliates have been contacted by the Department of Homeland Security for their input into keeping fusion centers in line with the Constitution.

“We’ve been encouraged by DHS’s attempts to reach out to us,” said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel. “Because of the amount of personal information available to these centers and the parties being given access to that information, federal, state and local governments are obligated to ensure that they are accountable to the public, and are following both the letter and the spirit of the law.”

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