Spy Files

Spy Files

The ACLU Campaign to Expose and Stop Illegal Domestic Spying

Today the government is spying on Americans in ways the founders of our country never could have imagined.

The ACLU Campaign to Stop Illegal Spying
Today the government is spying on Americans in ways the founders of our country never could have imagined. The FBI, federal intelligence agencies, the military, state and local police, private companies, and even firemen and emergency medical technicians are gathering incredible amounts of personal information about ordinary Americans that can be used to construct vast dossiers that can be widely shared through new institutions like Joint Terrorism Task Forces, fusion centers, and public-private partnerships.  And this surveillance often takes place in secret, with little or no oversight by the courts, by legislatures, or by the public.  The ACLU is dedicated to uncovering this secret surveillance network so Americans can protect their rights and demand accountability from these law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and from their elected representatives.

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The fear of terrorism has led to a new era of overzealous police intelligence activity directed, as so often in the past, against political activists, racial and religious minorities, and immigrants. This new surveillance activity is not directed solely at suspected terrorists and criminals. It's directed at all of us. Increasingly, the government is engaged in suspicionless surveillance that vacuums up and tracks sensitive information about innocent people. The erosion of reasonable restrictions on government's power to collect people's personal information is putting the privacy and free speech rights of all Americans at risk. The American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates across the country have uncovered and reported on many aspects of this growing domestic surveillance activity over the last several years. Our updated Spy Files website combines the information we've collected from Freedom of Information Act requests, ACLU lawsuits and reports, and news accounts so that members of the public can begin to get a comprehensive view of how these networked intelligence activities threaten their civil liberties.

FBI

As the nation's predominant law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has robust powers to peer into the lives of American citizens. But the FBI claims even broader authorities when acting in the nebulous realm of "national security," “domestic intelligence,” where its actions are largely hidden from public view and the procedural checks and balances that apply in criminal investigations are all but non-existent.
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Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in 2003 by combining 22 separate federal agencies, several with law enforcement powers and intelligence missions. As a relatively new member of the Intelligence Community, DHS has struggled to establish a clearly defined role for its intelligence activities, leading at times to error and overreach that implicates the rights of innocent persons.
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Department of Defense and NSA

The U.S. military is funded by American taxpayers to protect our nation and its inhabitants from foreign enemies, not to spy on Americans. The ACLU has been, and remains at the forefront of exposing U.S. military spying programs that target or otherwise sweep up Americans’ personal information in their wide intelligence-gathering programs.
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Intelligence Agencies

As a covert intelligence agency, the CIA may usese theft, blackmail, extortion and other dubious methods to collect information. The implications of such behavior on the civil rights and privacy of Americans are obvious if these tools are used domestically. Indeed the 2004 establishment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) all but erase the lines between foreign and domestic intelligence collection.
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State and Local Law Enforcement

Abuses of intelligence powers are not limited to federal authorities. In the past, state and local police forces were known to maintain political intelligence units (sometimes known as Anti-Subversive Squads, or Red Squads), which illegally spied upon and sabotaged numerous peaceful groups throughout the twentieth century. They often amassed detailed dossiers on political officials and engaged in "disruptive" activities targeting political activists, labor unions, and civil rights advocates, among others.
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Fusion Centers

The American Civil Liberties Union issued its first report on intelligence fusion centers, warning that these rapidly developing multi-jurisdictional spying centers lacked clear guidelines or sufficient oversight, and posed a severe risk to Americans’ civil liberties. By 2012, congressional investigators agreed, finding that fusion center personnel produced “‘intelligence’ of uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”
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Joint Terrorism Task Forces

The FBI conducts its counterterrorism intelligence operations primarily through Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). According to the FBI's website, over 600 state, local and federal agencies participate in JTTFs, including the U.S. military and, at one point at least, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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Suspicious Activity Reporting Programs

Over the last few years, federal, state and local authorities have initiated “suspicious activity reporting” (SAR) programs to encourage law enforcement officers, intelligence and homeland security officials, emergency responders, and even the public to report the “suspicious” activities of their neighbors to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The problem is that many of the behaviors these SAR programs identify as precursors to terrorism include innocuous and commonplace activities such as using binoculars, taking pictures, drawing diagrams and taking notes. SAR programs increase the probability that innocent people will be stopped by police and have their personal information collected for inclusion in law enforcement and intelligence data bases. They also open the door to racial profiling and other improper police practices by giving police unwarranted discretion to stop people who are not reasonably suspected of wrongdoing.
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