Tennessee Law Enforcement Classifies Protected Free Speech as "Suspicious Activity"

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
December 10, 2010 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Tennessee
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

State Fusion Center Tracks ACLU of Tennessee

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) today learned that the government-run Tennessee Fusion Center is highlighting on its website map of “Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity” a recent ACLU-TN letter to school superintendents. The letter encourages schools to be supportive of all religious beliefs during the holiday season. While the ostensible purpose of fusion centers, to improve sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different levels and arms of government, is legitimate and important, using the centers to monitor protected First Amendment activity clearly crosses the line.

“It is deeply disturbing that Tennessee’s fusion center is tracking First Amendment-protected activity,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “Equating a group’s attempts to protect religious freedom in Tennessee with suspicious activity related to terrorism is outrageous. Religious freedom is a founding principle in our Constitution—not fodder for overzealous law enforcement.”

Fusion centers are institutions created after 9/11 to allow various agencies within a state to share and analyze information about terrorism and other threats to American communities. The ACLU has long warned about the potential dangers of fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, excessive secrecy, troubling private-sector and military roles and a bent toward collection of information about innocent activities and data mining.

The Washington Post on Monday reported how, nine years after 9/11, U.S. state and local law enforcement are collecting, storing and sharing with federal agencies vast amounts of information about American citizens’ First Amendment-protected activities, often when there is no accusation, evidence or even suspicion of unlawful activity. The article included information about the Tennessee Fusion Center.

“The Fusion Center’s tracking of protected First Amendment activity raises profound civil liberties concerns regarding individual privacy, freedom of speech and religious freedom. We need only look back at our history to be reminded that domestic surveillance is unacceptable. The Tennessee Fusion Center’s classification of the ACLU letter as suspicious raises the specter that the government is once again tracking innocent Americans who are merely exercising the rights integral to a democratic society, returning us to a dangerous chapter in our country’s history,” Weinberg continued.

The Tennessee fusion center’s map can be found here: http://tnfusion.globalincidentmap.com/home.php

The ACLU of Tennessee’s holiday letter to school superintendents can be found here: http://www.aclu-tn.org/pdfs/Superintendent_letter_holidays.pdf

To learn more about the ACLU’s work on domestic intelligence gathering, go to: www.aclu.org/spy-files

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release