On Wednesday (December 3, 2008) the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security hosted a series of roundtable discussions on the future of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security. There is a schedule for the event, "A Path Forward: Constitutional Protections in Homeland Security," here with a list of participants and topics, but that does not look like a permanent link. There is also a link to a live audio feed (hosted by a dot-com, not the House), but I gather it was only "live" since it does not work today.
I'm not sure of the status of such single-party, staff-not-members hearings and whether we can ever expect a transcript of such things. Is there a category of "government publication" into which this fits? or is this just another piece of fugitive ephemera?
There is a news story about the meeting here:
- Panel: Government data-mining programs lack oversight, by Stephanie Condon, CNet,
December 3, 2008.
The panelists said that too many loopholes exist in the Privacy Act, government data mining programs are ineffective, and information-sharing programs are growing without any accountability. This "discussion" seems interesting and worth documenting somewhere.
Who's Watching the Spies?, by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, Jul 9, 2008
The White House has rejected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pick for a newly created U.S. government civil liberties board--a move that may doom efforts to get the panel up and running while President Bush remains in office.
...the only government board specifically charged with monitoring the impact of U.S. government actions on civil liberties and privacy interests has a decreasing chance of ever actually meeting, much less doing anything, for the rest of the year.
It turns out that the fear of domestic surveillance by our government and the repression of citizens' civil rights is not a new issue. Total Information Awareness (TIA) is not a nightmare dreamed up by John Poindexter. Modern Mechanix has unearthed an Atlantic article from November, 1967 called, "The National Data Center and Personal Privacy" by Arthur R. Miller (no not THAT Arthur Miller!) in which is described the building of a large central database to compile large amounts of statistical/personal/medical data on US citizens. It was so scary that there were Congressional hearings on computers and their use to invade citizens' privacy.
But such a Data Center poses a grave threat to individual freedom and privacy. With its insatiable appetite for information, its inability to forget anything that has been put into it, a central computer might become the heart of a government surveillance system that would lay bare our finances, our associations, or our mental and physical health to government inquisitors or even to casual observers. Computer technology is moving so rapidly that a sharp line between statistical and intelligence systems is bound to be obliterated. Even the most innocuous of centers could provide the “foot in the door” for the development of an individualized computer-based federal snooping system.
For those with access to LexisNexis Congressional you can read the entire hearing online including Edgar Dunn's testimony or get thee to a federal depository library to check out the hearing. Here's the entire citation:
The computer and invasion of privacy. Hearings, Eighty-ninth Congress, second session. July 26, 27, and 28, 1966. by United States. Congress. House. Committee on Government Operations. Special Subcommittee on Invasion of Privacy.
Centers Tap Into Personal Databases, By Robert O'Harrow Jr., Washington Post, April 2, 2008; page A01.
Intelligence centers run by states across the country have access to personal information about millions of Americans, including unlisted cellphone numbers, insurance claims, driver's license photographs and credit reports, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.
See other Fusion Center stories at FGI.
Today, Siobhan Gorman of The Wall Street Journal reported that the National Security Agency has assembled what some intelligence officials admit is a driftnet for domestic and foreign communications. According to Gorman: into the NSA's massive database goes data collected by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Treasury. This information includes data about email (recipient and sender address, subject, time sent), internet searches (sites visited and searches conducted), phone calls (incoming and outgoing numbers, length of call, location), financial information (wire transfers, credit-card use, information about bank accounts), and information from the DHS about airline passengers.
The only problem is, the Total Information Awareness Program (TIA) was supposed to have been killed by Congress in 2003. The ACLU responded to the report and said it would be filing a FOIA request to get more information.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded today to a stunning new report that the NSA has effectively revived the Orwellian ""Total Information Awareness"" domestic-spying program that was banned by Congress in 2003. In response, the ACLU said that it was filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for more information about the spying. And, the group announced that it was moving its "Surveillance Clock" one minute closer to midnight.
"Congress shut down TIA because it represented a massive and unjustified governmental intrusion into the personal lives of Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the ACLU. “Now we find out that the security agencies are pushing ahead with the program anyway, despite that clear congressional prohibition. The program described by current and former intelligence officials in Monday's Wall Street Journal could be modeled on Orwell’s Big Brother."
The ACLU said the new report confirmed its past warnings that the NSA was engaging in extremely broad-based data mining that was violating the privacy of vast numbers of Americans.
Over the last six years the government has established more than 40 state, local, and regional "fusion centers" to integrate information and intelligence from the federal government, state, local, and tribal governments, and the private sector to identify risks to people, economic infrastructure, and communities, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to respond to natural disasters and manmade threats. The report notes that fusion centers "represent a fundamental change in the philosophy toward homeland defense and law enforcement" and "a shift towards a more proactive approach to law enforcement."
Fusion centers are created by the states and are largely financed and staffed by the states. Curiously, for centers that produce and control so much potentially sensitive and private information and that work in cooperation with the private sector, there is no one model for how a center should be structured.
Of note, the DHS Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) program, which is being developed to "analyze large amounts of data, such as the relationships among people, organizations, and events" when fully functioning may have the ability to receive and provide information to the nation's fusion centers to assist with analytic strategic indications and warnings. Should ADVISE or other data collection and analysis programs become fully functional and accessible by fusion centers, some might see this as a devolution of national intelligence capabilities from the federal government to state governments resulting in the encroachment on individual civil liberties. Some are concerned that as fusion centers and the IC agencies codify relationships, there is increased potential for misuse of private sector data. It could be argued that such a relationship will allow state entities to act as agents of the federal government in performing federal intelligence community activities that violate federal privacy laws.
This CRS report includes over 30 options for congressional consideration to clarify and potentially enhance the federal government's relationship with fusion centers including drafting of a formal national fusion center strategy. The report examines, among many other things, civil liberties concerns and violations, and private sector purposes and roles in fusion centers.
- Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress, updated January 18, 2008. by John Rollins, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL34070.
Our thanks to Steven Aftergood for identifying and housing this report. See more of today's goodies here: Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and More from CRS, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (March 3, 2008). Also see earlier FGI posts: What is wrong with Fusion Centers and Groups seek definition of terrorism at government and private sector information-sharing centers.
Congress worries that .gov monitoring will spy on Americans. News.com
February 28, 2008
A new Bush administration plan to capture and analyze traffic on all federal government networks in real time is generating privacy worries from congressional Democrats and Republicans alike.
At a hearing convened here Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, politicians directed pointed questions to Department of Homeland Security officials about their plans to expand an existing "intrusion detection" system known as Einstein. Among other things, the system will monitor visits from Americans--and foreigners--visiting .gov Web sites.
And, a related article:
House Lawmakers Question Privacy in Cyber-Security Plan. By Brian Krebs, Washington Post, February 29, 2008.
House lawmakers yesterday raised concerns about the privacy implications of a Bush administration effort to secure federal computer networks from hackers and foreign adversaries, as new details emerged about the largely classified program.
The unclassified portions of the project, known as the "cyber initiative," focus on drastically reducing the number of connections between federal agency networks and the Internet, and more closely monitoring those networks for malicious activity. Slightly more than half of all agencies have deployed the Department of Homeland Security's program.
According to a posting in Slashdot and an Associated Press story, a plan to use U.S. spy satellites for domestic security and law-enforcement missions is moving forward after being delayed for months because of privacy and civil liberties concerns. An office within the Homeland Security Department, called the National Applications Office, "will provide more robust access to needed remote sensing information to appropriate customers". While some agencies such as FEMA have had access to spy satellite imagery for scientific research or to assist in response to natural disasters, the availability of satellite images will be expanded to other agencies to support the homeland security mission. According to Slashdot, this is the first time law-enforcement would be able to obtain a warrant and request access to satellite imagery. The National Applications Office website says that protecting privacy and civil liberties is a priority for the Office and that their activities are regulated under existing laws including the Privacy Act and Executive Order 12333.
Abracadabra! Bush Makes Privacy Board Vanish, By Ryan Singel, WIRED, Feb 4, 2008
The Bush administration has failed to nominate any candidates to a newly empowered privacy and civil-liberties commission [the Privacy and Civil Liberty Oversight Board]. This leaves the board without any members, even as Congress prepares to give the Bush administration extraordinary powers to wiretap without warrants inside the United States... Terms for the board's original members expired on Jan. 30.
The White House released a "National Strategy for Information Sharing" at the end of October. It sets up "fusion centers" to share information. No, not share government information with citizens, but "terrorism data" with all levels of government and the private sector. It's mission: to "facilitate the production of Federally-coordinated terrorism information products intended for dissemination to State, local, tribal, and private sector partners." But the strategy evidently does not define "terrorism" and thus endangers civil liberties:
- Strategy refines fusion centers' role, by Ben Bain, Federal Computer Week, November 5, 2007. "An expanded scope for the centers alarms privacy groups who fear misuse of data"
A recent CRS report notes that "less than 15% of the fusion centers interviewed for this report described their mission as solely counterterrorism" and also says:
There are several risks to the fusion center concept -- including potential privacy and civil liberties violations, and the possible inability of fusion centers to demonstrate utility in the absence of future terrorist attacks, particularly during periods of relative state fiscal austerity. Fusion centers are state-created entities largely financed and staffed by the states, and there is no one "model" for how a center should be structured. State and local law enforcement and criminal intelligence seem to be at the core of many of the centers. Although many of the centers initially had purely counterterrorism goals, for numerous reasons, they have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach. While many of the centers have prevention of attacks as a high priority, little "true fusion," or analysis of disparate data sources, identification of intelligence gaps, and pro-active collection of intelligence against those gaps which could contribute to prevention is occurring.
To me, this seems like more of what we have seen lately: a proclivity by government to want to cast a net over everyone hoping to find terrorists while labeling these surveillance activities as "terrorist surveillance" or, in this case, the sharing of "terrorism-related information." The fact is that, even if the term "terrorism" was well defined, the design of this program is to share all kinds of information -- not just "terrorism-related" information -- on all kinds of people -- not just "terrorists." This is further complicated by the government getting information that it is not permitted to collect by getting it from the private sector and possibly sharing information that the private sector would normally have no legal method of obtaining with the private sector.
In a related story, the government is continuing to fight for the right to get personal telephone, e-mail and financial records without a judge's approval (Feds fight ruling on information requests, by Larry Neumeister, Associated Press / USA TODAY,November 5, 2007).
Background On Fusion Centers
- Fact Sheet: National Strategy for Information Sharing, White House, Office of the Press Secretary, October 31, 2007. "New Strategy Builds On Progress To Establish Integrated National Capability For Terrorism-Related Information Sharing Among Federal, State, Local, And Tribal Officials, Private Sector, And Foreign Partners"
- NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR INFORMATION SHARING: Successes and Challenges In Improving Terrorism-Related Information Sharing (PDF) National Security Council October 2007
- Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress, by Todd Masse, Siobhan O'Neil, and John Rollins, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL34070, July 06, 2007
- A Summary of Fusion Centers: Core Issues and Options for Congress, by Todd Masse and John Rollins, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL34177, September 19, 2007. "Summarizes the main points of CRS Report RL34070, Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress."