There is something watching you. It can access your bank records, your credit records, who you texted on your cell phone, whether or not you are vaccinated … all without your knowledge. It isn’t an identity thief searching through your garbage, it is a highly sophisticated federally funded data center called a Fusion Center. Thankfully, the Austin Police Department is leading the way for the nation in protecting our privacy and civil liberties from unregulated Fusion Centers.

General Info:

A Fusion Center is a law enforcement hub for collecting and sharing information. Fusion Centers were created after 9/11 to help fight terrorism and are currently free to document the activities of Texans engaging in First Amendment protected activities (e.g., protests and political rallies) and collect non-criminal information (e.g., bank statements, credit card statements, medical history) on private citizens.

Fusion Centers “increase the ability of law enforcement to think about the causes and patterns of crime rather than being simply reactive,” Dr. Michael Lauderdale, Chairman of Austin’s Public Safety Commission, said. Lauderdale was instrumental in bringing a Fusion Center to Austin and he sees the potential negatives of Fusion Centers. “They may gather data that is interesting but may not be appropriate or legal, or become very unwieldy because of the amount of data collected.”

According to Matt Simpson of the ACLU of Texas, “The problem is that the legislation needs to catch up with the technology. Previously, a search warrant would be required to go through files and collect someone’s bank or telephone records.” Now, collecting that information is easy as pushing a button, and some law enforcement agencies have forgotten that the Constitution still applies and that warrants are still required.

Fusion Center Follies

In February 2009 the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a Fusion Center in Missouri, issued a report entitled “The Modern Militia Movement” that instructed law enforcement to consider those with bumper stickers of third-party candidates as potential members of a violent militia.

Catherine Bleish, a peace-activist in Missouri, was profiled by the MIAC because she served as delegate for the state of Missouri at the RNC in 2008 … supporting Ron Paul. She later appeared on Jesse Ventura’s television show Conspiracy Theory to tell America how she was targeted by a Fusion Center for supporting a political candidate.

In February 2009 the North Central Texas Fusion System, a Fusion Center in Collin County, released a report that said that it is “imperative for law enforcement officers to report” on the activities of lobbying groups, Muslim civil rights organizations and anti-war protest groups. In January 2010 The Texas Observer learned through a freedom of information request that the NCTFS was training employees to search websites for “threatening words”… including the word “protest.” Expressing religious and political viewpoints are activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and should not be monitored by government agencies.

Ben, a veteran of the Air Force, was pulled over while riding his motorcycle. Several squad cards, the DEA and a drug dog rushed to the scene. After detaining Ben for over an hour the police found no drugs and did not charge Ben with a crime, yet felt the need to take pictures of his tattoos and his motorcycle club patch and send that information to a Fusion Center.

William served in the Army for 24 years. He served in Iraq, dealt with top-secret information, and even had a top-secret NATO clearance. William retired from the Army in 2010. Within a month of returning home to America he was pulled over while riding his motorcycle, was photographed, and his data was entered into a Fusion Center. He had broken no laws.

“I’ve been shot at and I’ve almost been blown up. It is a disgrace for me to come home and be put in the same data base as the terrorists that killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” William said at the committee hearing on HB 3219, a Fusion Center bill.

The Austin Regional Intelligence Center

One day before City Council was scheduled to approve the creation of the ARIC, Texans for Accountable Government, a local activist group and government watchdog, found language in the ARIC charter that would require the ARIC to collect and analyze health information. Austin City Council and the Austin Police Department responded that health information was private and that the goal of the ARIC was to fight crime, not monitor the health of the citizens. As a result, the ARIC does not collect health information.

The ARIC also created the most extensive and protective privacy policy of any Fusion Center in Texas. TAG and the ACLU of Texas worked with Assistant Police Chief Carter  of APD,  the Public Safety Commission, and Council Member Laura Morrison, to establish a comprehensive privacy policy that would ensure that the ARIC would only collect “criminal information” and prevent the ARIC from collecting information on political, religious, or social views.

Dr. Lauderdale of the Public Safety Commission thinks that Fusion Centers should only collect information that has a “criminal predicate” and that the privacy policy and standards of the ARIC should be adopted by other Fusion Centers.

Once ARIC created its privacy policy, Kelley Stone, Chief of the NCTFS and Director of Collin County Homeland Security, readily adopted that privacy policy into his Fusion Center to help ensure that his Fusion Center would not violate the constitutional rights of Texans.

Texas Legislature:

The ARIC has a privacy policy that “serves as a model for the nation,” said Cary Roberts, Executive Director of the Greater Austin Crime Commission. Three bills in the state legislature seek to make that privacy policy standard for all Fusion Centers in Texas.

1: HB 3324 by Rep. McClendon creates a council to recommend rules regarding Fusion Centers.

2: SB 1572 by Austin's Sen. Kirk Watson would require that all Fusion Centers adopt a privacy policy similar to that of the ARIC, including protections for veterans and those in social clubs (e.g., biker clubs). These added provisions would protect the many law-abiding citizens who are veterans and bikers who have been unfairly targeted by Fusion Centers.

3: HB 3219 by Rep. Thompson is the most comprehensive of the proposed bills, including everything in Watson’s bill, and also prevents the collection of personally identifiable biometric information (e.g., tattoos) and requires every Fusion Center in Texas to establish and maintain an oversight board.

Fusion Centers can be very scary if you consider that all of your personal information could be aggregated in one place without your knowledge. The good news is that Austin is leading the way in protecting the privacy of its citizens by ensuring that the Austin Fusion Center only collects information of a criminal nature, and specifically prevents it from collecting information on social, religious, or political views. These standards must be adopted by all Fusion Centers to ensure that they are specifically prohibited from violating our constitutional rights.

 

 

Protect your Privacy!

Please help protect your privacy from unregulated Fusion Centers by contacting the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety and asking them to support HB 3219. Also, contact the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security and asking them to support SB 1527.

 

House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security: HB 3219

Sid Miller           (Chair)         (512) 463-0628

Allen Fletcher              (Vice Chair)  (512) 463-0661

Marva Beck                            (512) 463-0508

Lon Burnam                          (512) 463-0740

Dan Flynn                              (512) 463-0880

Barbara Mallory Caraway    (512) 463-0664

Aaron Pena                            (512) 463-0426

Armando Walle                     (512) 463-0924

 

Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security: SB 1572

Tommy Williams (Chair):     (512) 463-0104

Kirk Watson  (thank him for filing SB 1572)   (512) 463-0114

Wendy Davis                         (512) 463-0110

Rodney Ellis      (thank him for Co-sponsoring the SB 1572)

Chris Harris                           (512) 463-0109

Juan Hinojosa                       (512) 463-0120

Robert Nichols                      (512) 463-0103

Florence Shapiro                  (512) 463-0108

Jeff Wentworth                      (512) 463-0125