How to protect Americans from anti-terrorism data sharing
Across the United States, dozens of 'fusion centers' pool and share information in an effort to prevent another September 11. But these centers have not been effective anti-terrorism tools and have violated Americans' rights. Here's how they can be fixed.
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Beyond the problems with the federal role highlighted in the Senate report, historically, local law enforcement officers have not been trained to conduct counter-terrorism operations. There is no precedent for enlisting law enforcement at all levels, many without training in constitutional limits on surveillance, to share vast amounts of data in large, interconnected databases. The explosion in surveillance technology and information sharing must be accompanied by adequate training and safeguards to protect Americans’ personal liberties, including the rights of free speech, free assembly, and freedom of religion.Skip to next paragraph
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Fusion centers also should limit the information they collect and retain to what is necessary to serve their legitimate law enforcement purposes. One of the dangers of the national fusion center network is that misinformation developed in one jurisdiction can rapidly spread to other law enforcement agencies all across the country. To prevent errors from spreading, we need a process for individuals to challenge the information in the database whenever they suffer a harm they believe is the result of a mistaken fusion-center report.
Additionally, fusion centers should be subject to greater oversight by both federal and state governments. While we recognize that national security and anti-terrorism concerns require confidentiality in some matters, these concerns do not justify the paucity of publicly available information about the actual practices and activities of individual fusion centers.
Many of our recommendations mesh closely with those of the Senate subcommittee. Some of these changes can be implemented by DHS and the fusion centers themselves, while others will require action by the next Congress. We urge lawmakers and officials at all levels of government to take steps to ensure that taxpayers’ safety, personal liberties, and wallets are being respected and protected by the growing fusion center network.
Mary McCarthy is an attorney and a former high-ranking intelligence official, including serving as senior director for Intelligence Programs at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. Bob Barr is a former US Attorney and former Republican congressman from Georgia. Both are members of The Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee.