Dana Priest and William Arkin have published a lengthy investigative report in the Washington Post. Their piece, “Monitoring America”, details the extensive network of federal, state and local information gathering on American citizens.
…the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.
The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.
The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.
The reporters have identified 4058 federal, state and local organizations gathering information on citizens and residents and feeding that information to Washington, D. C. They describe their findings as,
“a picture of a country at a crossroads, where long-standing privacy principles are under challenge by these new efforts to keep the nation safe.”
A description of the FBI’s “Suspicious Files” begins on page 3 of the WaPo report and is worth a look. Understand that files are being generated on tens of thousands of Americans who have committed no crime, but have been identified by a local law enforcement officer, down to the level of traffic cop, as engaging in “suspicious activity”.
“As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database…”
The report goes on to question the effectiveness of training and raises serious issues concerning the information provided by the feds to local agencies without specific guidance on its use. Experts are quoted as disputing both the efficacy of the information gathered and its impact on citizens’ liberties.
The eight page report is a long read, but worth the time for those interested in privacy issues as they relate to national security concerns.
Contributor, aka tidbits. Retired attorney in complex litigation, death penalty defense and constitutional law. Former Nat’l Board Chair: Alzheimer’s Association. Served on multiple political campaigns, including two for U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR). Contributing author to three legal books and multiple legal publications.