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."
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