Most Popular Stories
Discover News By District
New intelligence ‘fusion center’ fuels privacy concerns
Friday, August 7, 2009 by Austin Monitor
City Council heard an earful from residents and privacy rights advocates over a proposed “fusion center” which would use federal money to gather and share information about citizens with the aim of crime prevention. Although Council ended up voting unanimously for a resolution which would allow $200,000 of grant money to secure a physical facility for the fusion center, the concerns citizens voiced seems to have contributed to increased scrutiny over the domestic surveillance center.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo introduced the item, saying that this fusion center would share criminal and investigative data between regional agencies in order to “connect the dots” and aid crime prevention. “In this part of the state we don’t do a very good job of sharing information,” he said, expressing optimism that the fusion center would alleviate that. The center would take an “all hazards, all crimes” approach to intelligence gathering, which elicited concerns from a disparate coalition of community members.
There are currently 70 operational fusion centers across the country, and the track record they have accumulated seems to have offended citizens across political spectrums. Acevedo promised that the
Laura Martin, policy analyst with the ACLU of Texas was skeptical. “Fusion centers undermine our basic rights to privacy, and fail to make us safer,” she said. “All crimes all hazards is an alarmingly over-broad mandate,” she said later and expressed concerns that the data would “include not only arrest and investigation data but other information like credit reports, library records, bank statements and travel records.”
Debbie Russell, president of the Central Texas Chapter of the ACLU and John Bush, director of Texans for Accountable Government also spoke at length about the concerns they had for the fusion center.
Bush said the fusion centers would be “interoperable” and share information across government agencies from the CIA and FBI down. He noted that “suspected activities” could also fall under the purview of fusion centers and that the broad net they cast would have “a chilling effect” on free speech. Russell reminded council of a 2003 resolution the city passed expressing concern that the Patriot Act “threatens fundamental rights and liberties” amongst other charges.
Council Members Laura Morrison and Mike Martinez said they have been concerned about the lack of public process with the fusion center.
Morrison eventually proposed a motion that would postpone voting on the lease negotiation, the specific item before council. Council Member Bill Spelman seconded the motion and opened up a line of inquiry with Acevedo. Spelman wondered who would be monitoring the center and what governing documents would control its actions.
Acevedo said that APD would be consulting with stakeholders and the community in the next month and draw up a governing document by the end of September. He told Council that all the entities engaging with the fusion center would have to sign the same Memorandum of Understanding, which would have to be approved by Council.
Spelman asked if “in the MOU there would be a provision that says we can audit you whenever we thought it was necessary and verify that you actually were following the policies.” Acevedo said this could be incorporated into the governing document and encouraged oversight of the center.
Council Member Sheryl Cole said she “feels comfortable that this body can guarantee that a public process will occur in connection with this item.”
Join Your Friends and Neighbors
We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?