DETROIT – Citing privacy concerns, the American Civil Liberties Union today released a report urging policy makers to closely monitor the expansion of new intelligence gathering institutions called “fusion centers,” which have been created in over 40 states around the nation – including Michigan.
Although fusion centers are intended to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among state, local and federal government agencies and the private sector, they raise very serious privacy and technology concerns. The 27-page ACLU report -- What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?-- reveals that fusion centers lack oversight, boundary-setting, and checks and balances, which are crucial to protecting the rights of innocent Americans.
“While the ACLU agrees with ostensible purpose of fusion centers, in a democracy, the collection and sharing of intelligence information—especially information about American citizens and other residents—need to be carried out with the utmost care,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “There is a long history of local and federal law enforcement agencies abusing their domestic spying powers. The Michigan legislature must lift the cloak of secrecy, examine these centers closely, and make certain that they are acting within the law.”
The ACLU report identifies five specific problems with fusion centers as they currently exist:
- Ambiguous Lines of Authority. Overlapping jurisdictions create the potential for manipulation of differing laws to evade accountability.
- Private Sector Participation. Fusion centers are incorporating private corporations into the intelligence process, further threatening privacy.
- Military Participation. Fusion centers are involving military personnel in law enforcement activities in troubling ways.
- Data Mining. Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy.
- Excessive Secrecy. Public oversight, individual redress and the very effectiveness of fusion centers are threatened by excessive secrecy.
In Michigan, the Department of Management and Budget issued an RFP in March 2007 for a fusion center called the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center managed by the Michigan State Police.
The ACLU of Michigan asks the state legislature to ensure that such fusion centers in Michigan are planned in a public, open manner, and their implications for privacy and other key values carefully thought out and debated. In addition, these centers must be constructed in a carefully bounded and limited manner with sufficient checks and balances to prevent abuse.