Civil libertarians are pushing for legal limits on personal data law enforcement organizations can collect after a Texas fusion center's bulletin singled out Muslim and antiwar groups for direct scrutiny.
In late February, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.
The fusion center's administrators, who represent 125 jurisdictions in the region, raised concern in the bulletin about growing tolerance toward pro-Islamic lobbying concerning sharia law and Islamic finance.
According to the "Prevention Awareness Bulletin:"
Given the stated objectives of these lobbying groups and the secretive activities of radical Islamic organizations, it is imperative for law enforcement officers to report these types of activities to identify potential underlying trends emerging in the North Central Texas region.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, says the bulletin unnecessarily targets and discriminates against Muslim Americans.
“The idea that the tolerance advocated by the groups being targeted would be treated as a menace to American security demonstrates a disregard for civil liberties and a disdain for democracy itself," she said after the bulletin surfaced. "The kind of indiscriminate and unlawful investigations this bulletin calls for always results in a chilling effect on free speech and association.”
The bulletin's release as well as the fallout surrounding Maryland's state police surveillance of anti-war groups has led the ACLU in New Mexico to push for stronger legal protections for citizens' privacy rights, according to Time.
Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are pushing bills to restrict fusion centers' access to data, most notably in New Mexico, where opponents hope to make government snooping a costly offense. Legislation has been introduced in Santa Fe that would prohibit any New Mexico law enforcement agency from collecting information about the religious, political and social associations of law-abiding New Mexicans. And in what would be a first for the nation, the bill would allow private citizens to sue law enforcement agencies for damages over the unauthorized collection of such data.
The ACLU has been long critical of state fusion centers, which seek to share intelligence information among federal, state, and local law enforcement to help thwart terrorist attacks. In 2007, it released "What's Wrong with Fusion Centers," which warned fusion centers could be used to a create a new domestic surveillance infrastructure. In a July 2008 update, the ACLU said evidence compiled by the media demonstrate their fears have been borne out.
[N]ews accounts have reported overzealous intelligence gathering, the expansion of uncontrolled access to data on innocent people, hostility to open government laws, abusive entanglements between security agencies and the private sector, and lax protections for personally identifiable information.
But the ACLU haven't been the only critical parties.
A privacy impact assessment from the Department of Homeland Security in December also identified a host of privacy concerns plaguing state fusion centers, including data mining practices and mission creep from strict counterterrorism to an all-crimes approach.