The government is allowed to gather information on citizens if there is probable cause, and a warrant has been issued “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” according to the fourth amendment. The Department of Homeland Security has assisted in setting up Fusion Centers which are now found all over the U.S. (there were 72 as of 2009). These centers collect information from local and state police, the FBI, CIA, military and the private sector to pool it all in one place. The official purpose of these fusion centers is to aide in anti-terrorism efforts across the nation, yet a recent Senate subcommittee report challenges the claim that these centers actually assist in counter terrorism activities.
…the Subcommittee investigation found that DHS’s involvement with fusion centers had not produced the results anticipated by statute, White House strategies and DHS’s own 2006 plan. Specifically, DHS’s involvement with fusion centers appeared not to have yielded timely, useful terrorism-related intelligence for the federal intelligence community…
…DHS did not adequately monitor the amount of funding it directed to support fusion centers; failed to conduct meaningful oversight of how state and local agencies spent grant funds DHS intended to support fusion centers; did not ensure the grants it made to fusion center projects were yielding the progress state and local officials promised; and did not attempt to determine whether the end product of its efforts and spending were commensurate with the level of its investment…
…Many centers didn’t consider counterterrorism an explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said some were simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism work… (Full Article Here)
So these centers are not doing what they were set up to do, and no one involved seems concerned. Money is being wasted, terrorists are not being caught, and our civil rights are being trampled. Information is being gathered about innocent civilians without due process and the room for abuse is substantial. Since information from the private sector is also being fused, you never know what type of incriminating situation you may find yourself in. Suppose your phone pinpoints your location within the area of a crime or a string of crimes; now you are a suspect without any probable cause, just because the government illegally collected information about your whereabouts. Or do any of us really trust the government enough to think they would never try to frame someone with the information they have available? Things like Fusion Centers just make it that much easier for the government to cover up any unethical policies, and abuse their power.
Did you know that applications installed on smartphones often require the user to agree that the app may use the phones’ microphone or camera at any time? Some of these apps have nothing to do with cameras or microphones; when downloading a calender and social media app one man found the following messages that he had to agree to before the download would complete:
– “Record Audio” – “Allows the app to record audio with the microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.”
– “Take pictures and videos” – “Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.” (Original Article Here)
We know so little about Fusion Centers that this type of information may already be available to them. If not, a quick subpoena of the information will put it in the hands of government and law enforcement. App companies also include in their agreements that they can get full network access to your phone, pinpoint your location, read your contacts, and send SMS messages. I would advise anyone who uses a smartphone to read the agreements before downloading apps.
So if this stuff seems like it could actually assist in getting criminals off the streets, then what is the problem? After all if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. What should concern all of us however, is the broad definition the DHS gives to possible terrorists. According to Wikipedia, the Cato Institute has noted
a long line of fusion center and DHS reports labeling broad swaths of the public as a threat to national security. The North Texas Fusion System labeled Muslim lobbyists as a potential threat; a DHS analyst in Wisconsin thought both pro- and anti-abortion activists were worrisome; a Pennsylvania homeland security contractor watched environmental activists, Tea Party groups, and a Second Amendment rally; the Maryland State Police put anti-death penalty and anti-war activists in a federal terrorism database; a fusion center in Missouri thought that all third-party voters and Ron Paul supporters were a threat; and the Department of Homeland Security described half of the American political spectrum as “right wing extremists.”
Whoever has the power at any given time will be the ones defining who is a terrorist and who is an enemy of the state. This is why we have objective rule of law that does not change with each administration. It is time we respect the Bill of Rights and demand that the unconstitutional snooping stop, before it is too late to protest.
Similar tactics have been used in the past where law enforcement collects vast swaths of information on law abiding civilians and puts it into a searchable database, to be looked up whenever needed. Click here to read about the whistle-blowers of this tactic, Bill Binney and Thomas Drake, who worked for the NSA.
The government has also increased cell phone surveillance, and are monitoring what we say online like never before. Click here to read more about government surveillance.