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News :: Organizing : Technology
The Keystone Stasi Police
by The Boston Bastard
Email: bbhayduke (nospam) yahoo.com
22 Aug 2011
Police have been using the Boston Regional Intelligence Center in a half-assed attempt to collect data on political activists and profile "potential criminals."
In much of the last decade, the voyeurs in the Boston Police Department (BPD) have been collecting video surveillance of protestors as part of the “Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative,” a federal program that calls for local law-enforcement agencies to collect and share information on “suspicious activities,” which seemingly includes lawful protest.
This week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLU)formally filed a lawsuit against BPD under the Massachusetts Public Records Law following a series of refusals from BPD to comply with repeated Freedom of Information Act requests about surveillance from the police at political rallies over the last few years.
“There have been significant changes in the surveillance operations of the BPD,” said Laura Rótolo, ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney in a released statement. “For years, the BPD has conducted surveillance of political protests, openly recording legal rallies, marches and demonstrations in public areas. But now that information can be centrally monitored, indexed, and stored electronically, and shared through state and national surveillance networks. We brought this suit because we believe the public should know what information is being collected about political activities, how it is being used, and what policies, if any, are in place to protect privacy and individual liberty.”
Specifically, the ACLU is seeking information on the Boston Regional Intelligence Central (BRIC), an information “fusion center,” which was established in 2005 to better facilitate BPD in collecting and sharing information about criminal activity.
The creation and implementation of BRIC was prescribed in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which was then amended by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. This called for the establishment of an “information sharing environment for the sharing of terrorism-related information while protecting the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of individuals.”
The 2007 amendment pertained to privacy practices and the effectiveness of “fusion centers” such as BRIC which have sprung up around the nation since 2005.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s own Privacy Office, fusion centers provide a variety of problems that should cause some to question the legitimacy of these programs.
This is detailed here.
Skip to about page 33 to get to the critiques of the program.
According to the Privacy Office, the existence of fusion centers are often not easily justifiable, they have ambiguous lines of authority, rules and oversight, they involve the participation of those in the military and private sector who are less beholden to civilian oversight, they potentially involve improper data mining, there is “excessive secrecy,” and information is often inaccurate or incomplete. There is also concern over ”mission creep” which is the tendency for a program to overstep or expand its originally stated mission, such as a fusion center designated for anti-terrorism efforts transitioning to traditional crime monitoring.
Further, the Department of Homeland Security specifically prohibits the use of federally-funded criminal intelligence system from targeting based on political, religious or social views, associations, or activities of any individual or organizations unless that information directly involves criminal conduct or activity as per 28 Code of Federal Regulation part 23, which are essentially law enforcement surveillance guidelines.
Though, I’m sure there is no political or religious agenda in constantly monitoring even the tamest anti-war organizations or pro-Palestine groups as the ACLU has documented, or even monitoring anti-abortion groups and animal rights groups.
The Boston Bastard obtained one of the latest sets of BRIC notices sent out to the various police departments in the city.
For the most part, the information tends to include gang- or drug-related profiling, warnings about upcoming events that may be prone to violence, occasional warnings about Nigerian scams your grandmother heard about five years and alarmist warnings that that grandmother is likely to send to every member of her bridge club.
The Boston Police Department’s own website describes the BRIC program as one designed to better coordinating information gathering among departments as it pertains to gang activity and the drug trade.
For the most part, officers have, in fact, used the BRIC to share police reports and to coordinator the monitoring of gang and drug suspects, but police have also used BRIC for data that does pertain to political activity.
Police surveillance and/or repression is nothing new for those who participate in such forms of direct action, and although the existence of BRIC seems like a mighty leap towards Big Brother to many activists, but has that information been used in any arrests and/or convictions of political activists in the Hub?
The ACLU has been primarily focused on monitoring of left-leaning political groups, but there is very little information as to whether or not the police have been monitoring conservative groups, such as those who have organized several Tea Party Rallies in the Boston Commons.
The Boston Police has a history of tight-lipped behavior and an unwillingness to accept that perhaps they could use some more civilian oversight. We’ll see where the ACLU gets with their suit.
“Democracy dies behind closed doors,” said Rótolo in the ACLU’s statement. “Shedding sunlight on police surveillance practices is the best way to guard against abuses of power and to ensure that law enforcement doesn’t hide behind anti-terrorism rhetoric to justify programs and practices that chill legal dissent and quash protected political speech and assembly.”
This work is in the public domain.