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Mayor nominates police intelligence agency for free Google Fiber

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by Michael Kanin

A pitch from Mayor Lee Leffingwell to include the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, or ARIC, on a list of sites that will receive free access to Google’s new ultra-high speed Internet service met with some amount of skepticism from his colleagues Tuesday.


At their regular work session – the last one of 2013 – Council Member Laura Morrison prefaced a discussion about Council approval of a list of 100 potential sites for the Community Connections Program with word that one of the candidates had dropped out. That prompted a response from Leffingwell.


“I have one right now that – I didn’t know until you mentioned it that there was an opening – that I would like to submit and that would be the Austin Regional Intelligence Center,” Leffingwell offered. “That seems to me to be a very appropriate use for this kind of capacity.”


Leffingwell further suggested that Morrison and her colleagues allow any Council member to nominate another candidate site for the Google program. Morrison expressed no concerns with the general notion of amending her resolution.


“We could certainly change the resolution so that it is suggested that any Council member that is having ideas to fill out the list eventually could submit those to staff so that they would all be presented before (the Emerging Technology Committee) took a look,” she offered.


Council Member Kathie Tovo had specific concerns over the ARIC application. “Did they apply during the process?” she asked. When Leffingwell responded that “they were unaware of the potential to make that application, so they didn’t,” Tovo reacted.


“It sounds like we have 200 other applicants who got their applications in, went through the evaluation process and what we would be doing if we consider this one on Thursday would be to sidestep our process,” she said.


Leffingwell said he would be “perfectly willing” to go through some level of process to consider ARIC “along with the others.”


ARIC is one of many regional intelligence centers located throughout the country. According to a note on the Austin Police Department’s website, the center, “analyzes information and disseminates actionable intelligence used to address an all-crimes perspective.” All told, the facility serves 10 local law enforcement agencies.


Leffingwell suggested that the free fiber optics connection – an Internet line that would greatly accelerate online capacity – could be used by the center to aid its ability to crunch “a lot of data.”


In fall 2012, a report issued by the US Congress contained broad concerns over the centers, with particular regard to efficacy. According to a New York Times report printed Oct. 2, 2012, “the report found that the centers “forwarded intelligence of uneven quality — oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”


Local officials have tried to distance ARIC from other facilities, noting particular attention paid to privacy concerns. That attention, officials argue, is not common practice across the country.


Morrison floated the notion of adding either the newly built Asian-American Resource Center or Austin Bergstrom International Airport to the list of potential free fiber candidates. She added that she still hopes to pass a list of 100 nominees Thursday.


Google has final say over which facilities will receive free fiber service. Company spokeswoman Jenna Wandres said that the nominees were up to the city. “The decision regarding which community organizations get “Community Connections” belongs to the Mayor and City Council. As long as each location is in a qualified fiberhood and is commercially reasonable to connect, we’ll hook them up!” she wrote in an email.

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