Surveillance is not a new threat to democracy. What is new is the combination of 21st century technology and post-9/11 government zeal for "homeland security," which makes both the threat and the impact of surveillance and domestic spying exponentially greater.
After 9/11, the federal government invested heavily in building a new nationwide intelligence network, rooted in state and local law enforcement. Massachusetts became an early adopter. In 2004, then-Gov. Romney established the "Commonwealth Fusion Center," making our state part of this national effort to centralize and expand the government's ability to collect and retain personal information on anyone, for the professed purpose of preventing terrorism.
This powerful "intelligence data" hub makes a mountain of electronic information—from a wide array of public and commercial sources—available to law enforcement officials, who can collect, share, and comb through it, going far beyond the bounds of ordinary criminal investigations. The Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) is a similar operation run by the Boston Police Department.
As they say, "if you build it, they will come." Having unmonitored "intelligence" architecture in place increases the incentive for police to engage in mass surveillance that can sweep in protected First Amendment activity. History compels great caution. The dangers are well documented, from the investigations of "subversives" in the 1950s to the warrantless seizures by the NSA and telecoms in recent years. Most recently, in other states with "fusion centers," we have seen police target Muslim and Arab communities for scrutiny without any suspicion of illegal activity, and engage in sustained, unwarranted spying on political activity—targeting everyone from environmental advocates to peace and anti-death-penalty activists.
Yet, today, the Commonwealth Fusion Center and BRIC operate with virtually no independent oversight. Privacy protections and safeguards for basic constitutional rights are totally inadequate. That needs to change. We must act now to prevent abuse, stand up for the First Amendment, and shine a light on "intelligence" operations in the Commonwealth.
See the Fusion Centers page on our sister site, PrivacySOS to find out more about "What's the Matter with Fusion Centers?".
Links and Action items:
When We Are All Suspects (PDF)
ACLU of Massachusetts report
Executive Director Carol Rose Discusses Domestic Surveillance on the Samantha Clemens Show
Listen to the podcast (.mp3) | Samantha Clemens Show
Privacy and Intelligence Experts Join Call for Oversight of Massachusetts Domestic Surveillance Operations
Domestic Surveillance Report
National ACLU's Fusion Center Report | 2008 Report Update
Civil Liberties Minute: Big Brother and Your Privacy
listen to the podcast (.mp3)
Testimony on Senate Bill 931, "An Act Regarding the Commonwealth Fusion Center and Other Intelligence Data Centers," by:
- Carol Rose, ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director
- Mike German, ACLU Policy Counsel, Former FBI Agent
- Robert Ellis Smith, Publisher, Privacy Journal
- Professor Christopher Pyle
Investigative Report Criticizes Counterterrorism Reporting, Waste at State & Local Intelligence Fusion Centers
News release from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Executive Order 476 (PDF)
Gov. Romney designated Massachusetts' Commonwealth Fusion Center as the state's "Principal Center for Information Collection and Dissemination"
Romney unveils Commonwealth's anti-terror fusion center (PDF)
Massachusetts Executive Department News Release
Homeland Security Advisory Council Backgrounder on Fusion Centers (PDF)
Gov. Romney co-chaired the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Advisory Council, which issued this report in 2005.