Suspicious Activity Reporting: Dumbing Down Suspicion

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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