Friday, April 4, 2008

Centers Tap Into Personal Databases

If we didn't have enough reasons to lie awake at night worrying about the future of privacy in this country and this administration's wholesale assault on the Constitution! Now we learn - thanks to the Washington Post's efforts - that there are "intelligence centers" (why do these operations always have to sound so Orwellian!?) being run by states across the country that have access to the personal information of millions of Americans, including unlisted cellphone numbers, insurance claims, driver's license photographs and credit reports.

But not to worry they tell us, its all for our own protection! Why does none of this make me feel any safer? This sounds like yet another constitution crushing idea that had been in the works for years before 9/11...which just happened to be the kind of "event" that gave the cover needed to implement such a scheme. The possible abuses are incalculable...

The Washington Post Reports:

Dozens of the organizations known as fusion centers were created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to identify potential threats and improve the way information is shared. The centers use law enforcement analysts and sophisticated computer systems to compile, or fuse, disparate tips and clues and pass along the refined information to other agencies. They are expected to play important roles in national information-sharing networks that link local, state and federal authorities and enable them to automatically sift their storehouses of records for patterns and clues.

Though officials have publicly discussed the fusion centers' importance to national security, they have generally declined to elaborate on the centers' activities. But a document that lists resources used by the fusion centers shows how a dozen of the organizations in the northeastern United States rely far more on access to commercial and government databases than had previously been disclosed.

Those details have come to light at a time of debate about domestic intelligence efforts, including eavesdropping and data-aggregation programs at the National Security Agency, and whether the government has enough protections in place to prevent abuses.


Government watchdogs, along with some police and intelligence officials, said they worry that the fusion centers do not have enough oversight and are not open enough with the public, in part because they operate under various state rules.

"Fusion centers have grown, really, off the radar screen of public accountability," said Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonpartisan watchdog group in the District. "Congress and the state legislatures need to get a handle over what is going on at all these fusion centers."


The centers have been criticized for being secretive, but authorities said that this is largely for security reasons. Activists want to know more about their activities, the kinds of information they collect and how the information is being used.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a lawsuit in Virginia last month seeking the release of records about communication among state fusion center officials and the departments of Homeland Security and Justice. Marc Rotenberg, the privacy center's executive director, said his group was responding to a proposed state law that would sharply limit access to records about the fusion centers' activity.

I'll be watching this story as it develops...hopefully I'm just being paranoid and there's nothing to worry about...but I'm not holding my breath.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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