Haphazard Police Spying Across U.S. Puts Americans’ Civil Liberties in Jeopardy

Monday, January 06, 2014
Dallas Police Department Fusion Center (photo: jupiter.com)

Law enforcement agencies across the United States are increasingly spying on Americans, with serious repercussions for their privacy and civil liberties.


One particular area of concern rests with “fusion centers,” in which local police share information and intelligence with state and federal authorities.


An examination of these centers by the Brennan Center for Justice found “a sprawling, federally subsidized, and loosely coordinated system designed to share information that is collected according to varying local standards.”


The haphazard efforts have undermined counterterrorism aims, and perhaps more importantly, compromised the constitutional rights of Americans, according to the center’s report.


“Many police departments and fusion centers have reported on constitutionally protected activities such as photography and political speech,” the center’s Michael Price wrote at Salon. “They have also demonstrated a troubling tendency to focus on people who appear to be of Middle Eastern origin.”


Officers in California often report on “suspicious” activities that amount to little more than standing around at bus or train stations, or talking at length on public phones, Price says.


“Oversight has not kept pace,” writes Price, “increasing the likelihood that intelligence operations violate civil liberties and harm critical police-community relations.”


In addition, “As an increasing number of agencies collect and share personal data on federal networks, inaccurate or useless information travels more widely. Independent oversight of fusion centers is virtually non-existent, compounding these risks.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

It Ain't Just the NSA -- Your Local Cops Could Be Spying on You (by Michael Price, Salon)

National Security and Local Police (by Michael Price, Brennan Center for Justice) (pdf)

Cellphone Data Spying: It's Not Just the NSA (by John Kelly, USA Today)

U.S. Counter-Terrorism Apparatus is used to Quell Dissent among Americans (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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