ACLU Urges Congress To Improve Intelligence Oversight

April 21, 2009 12:00 am

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Senate Judiciary Committee Testimony Today Addresses Abuses In Information Gathering

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to intensify its oversight of terrorism-related information sharing between law enforcement agencies. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, focused on abuses in law enforcement intelligence collection and sharing practices, including the unwarranted state police surveillance of peace groups in Maryland.

“Sweeping changes in surveillance practices have turned federal, state and local law enforcement officers into de facto intelligence agents,” said Fredrickson. “These changes coupled with the failure to enforce existing regulations will inevitably lead to more abuses like those seen in Maryland. When our government steadily increases its information sharing and spying capabilities without increasing our privacy protections proportionally, abuse will always be inevitable.”

Fredrickson also addressed problems with the recently amended Attorney General Guidelines that allow a person’s race or ethnic background to be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move the ACLU believes will effectively authorize racial profiling as a matter of policy.

“The current Attorney General Guidelines give too much leeway for the FBI to engage in abusive investigations targeting First Amendment protected activity,” said Fredrickson. “A person’s race, religion or political beliefs do not constitute reasonable suspicion. Congress must address these guidelines and make a clear statement that it will not approve racial profiling.”

The ACLU recognizes a legitimate need to share lawfully-collected information regarding terrorism and other criminal activity among law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, local and tribal levels in an effective and efficient manner. But increasing the government’s authority to collect and disseminate personally identifiable information about Americans in the absence of proper oversight, reasonable suspicion and a specified law enforcement purpose poses significant risks to our privacy and civil liberties.

“Any effort to expand information sharing among law enforcement agencies must be accompanied by independent oversight mechanisms,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. “Without a rigorous set of standards in place to preserve our privacy rights, we can’t guarantee the accuracy and usefulness of the shared information.”

To read the ACLU’s testimony, go to: www.aclu.org/natsec/gen/39415leg20090421.html

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