When the ACLU first began investigating fusion centers in 2007, little was known about them and few publicly questioned their work compiling information about U.S. citizens and sharing it with law enforcement at all levels of government.
The ACLU was concerned about the centers' excessive secrecy, data mining, military and private sector participation and the ambiguous lines of authority.
Congress finally caught up last week when it issued a report criticizing fusion centers' ability to safeguard both national security and civil liberties.
That's the conclusion the ACLU's fusion center expert Michael German reached in 2008 when he warned that lack of public accountability was leading to police intelligence operations in fusion centers turning their focus from suspected criminals and toward political activists, racial and religious minorities, and immigrant communities. A well-publicized debacle in Virginia exposed the fusion center there issuing a terrorism threat assessment that said the state’s colleges were “nodes for radicalization” and characterized “diversity” surrounding a Virginia military base and the state’s “historically black” colleges as possible threats.
We're glad that Congress is looking into this problem, but more needs to be done. The ACLU is suing the Department of Homeland Security under the Freedom of Information Act for more information its racial and ethnic mapping programs and more.
And to top off the violations of our privacy, fusion centers are ineffective and waste taxpayer money. That's why the Billings Gazette today called for them to be eliminated, saying that fusion centers have "misspent much of $1.4 billion over the past decade."
"Not only have fusion centers spied on U.S. citizens in the United States, they have morphed from their intended anti-terrorism mission to general criminal investigation. However, they channel federal grants to states and lawmakers don’t want to cut off funds to their districts."
It's time to stop spying on innocent Americans.