Massachusetts Police Privacy Breach Underlines Need For Reform

May 6, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – A state auditor’s report released Tuesday reveals that “dozens” of Massachusetts law enforcement officials used the state Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) to access information about “local celebrities and high profile citizens” hundreds of times without work-related justification.

“After 9/11, our government adopted overzealous data collection and information sharing programs that have now put our most private information at risk,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. “Congress has allowed our federal, state and local law enforcement to expand their ability to gather and share our information while doing little to ensure our privacy is being protected. As we’ve seen in Massachusetts and several other states, when it comes to law enforcement information sharing, minimal oversight will inevitably lead to massive abuse. Congress must lead the fight for their constituents’ privacy and institute rigorous standards for information gathering, sharing and use.”

The CJIS gives state law enforcement officials access to an abundance of sensitive information including state and federal criminal records, probation information, driving records and Social Security numbers of Massachusetts residents without internal controls to safeguard against abuse. The inappropriate requests for information about celebrities included multiple queries of the FBI’s Interstate Identification Index and National Crime Information Center, which house criminal identification records from all over the country, wanted and missing persons information, as well as Secret Service and national security alerts.

The ACLU is calling on Congress to work with the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department Inspectors General to conduct similar audits of federal law enforcement information sharing programs including DHS-funded fusion centers, the FBI’s Foreign Terrorism Tracking Task Force, Guardian and eGuardian systems, among others, to ensure Americans’ privacy is protected.

To read about the ACLU’s work on fusion centers, go to:

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