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September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center have dramatically changed the United States government’s position on surveillance. Intelligence-led policing techniques became hastily integrated, often without proper scientific evidence of their effects and with loose definitions of their nature. One aspect of intelligence-led policing is fusion centers that are designed to collect and analyze information from various state sources. This paper will provide an argument against the current implementation of the fusion centers.
Over the last decade, intelligence-led policing has gradually become an essential aspect of police work. Despite the initial lack of preparation for their implementation, intelligence-led policing techniques have been successfully evaluated by various research groups and have shown to be an effective tool for preventing recidivism (Cordner, 2016). The same could not be said about the work of fusion centers. Unlike task forces or joint investigations, this type of multi-agency involvement was focused primarily on data gathering and analysis instead of direct action. Such agencies as the FBI, ATF, Department of Homeland Security, and many others are collaborating on various projects for tracking possible terrorist activity across state lines (Lambert, 2010).
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is quite bleak. Fusion centers have not only been shown to be an ineffective method of counterterrorism work but have been utilized for significant violations of civil liberties. Multiple reports have shown that fusion centers have changed their focus from counterterrorist activity to data collection and surveillance of American citizens based on their political beliefs, religious beliefs, and ethnic background. On multiple occasions, American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the work of these centers due to their spying activity on third party voters, anti-war protestors, Muslim Lobbyists, anti-death penalty protesters, and a variety of other groups. The Privacy Office has also proposed that the fusion center program presents a variety of risks to the privacy of citizens due to such factors as the excessive secrecy of the centers, their so-called “Mission Creep,” inaccurate information analysis, as well as other factors (Riegle, 2008; Hart & Andringa, 2012).
The transition from counterterrorist activity to domestic issues has created a large number of instances where the centers are used for matters where not only is their use extraneous, but often leads to negative consequences to innocent people. A Senate report from the Department of Homeland Security has found that over the course of a year-long observation, fusion centers have not provided any information that was relevant to preventing a terrorist threat, nor found any information about a previously unknown terrorist element (Riegle, 2008). Instead, the report included a number of false reports that targeted people for unusual but completely legal and at times protected by the First Amendment activity. A later report from 2012 suggested that the fusion center program has been involved in inappropriate spending of government resources and even utilizing them for personal gain (Hart & Andringa, 2012).
Although I have reservations about intelligence-led policing, they are minimal in comparison to the activity shown by fusion centers. I believe that a complete restructuring is required to create a more controlled program. Additionally, policies that prevent surveillance on people without criminal records or, at the very least, reporting on people without clear indications of malicious activity should be implemented to protect the civil liberties of the population.
Fusion centers are a product of hasty and underdeveloped implementation of new technologies without proper oversight. It is difficult to consider that such a massive project can be so dramatically mismanaged and eventually used for harmful activity, but the reports show that the program is a definitive failure in the current state.
Cordner, G. (2016). Police administration. London, UK: Taylor and Francis.
Hart, J., & Andringa, T. (2012). Investigative report criticizes counterterrorism reporting, waste at state & local intelligence fusion centers. Web.
Lambert, D. (2010). Intelligence-led policing in a fusion center. Web.