Since the passage of the PATRIOT Act, pervasive citizen surveillance and data collection have been combined as part of an ambitious effort to coordinate national security efforts. Many state governments are in the process of developing warehouses for private and public information in centralized digital hubs called fusion centers, over 70 of which have already been established around the country.
One fusion center of considerable size and concern is the North Central Texas Fusion Center (NCTFS). According the NCTFS, their fusion system user base has expanded to 125 North Central Texas agencies and a centralized hub located in Austin with access to 90 million database records, including open source data. The fusion center intends to allow national security employees to access their user base from remote locations.
According to an ACLU report:
The types of information they seek for analysis has also broadened over time to include not just criminal intelligence, but public and private sector data, and participation in these centers has grown to include not just law enforcement, but other government entities, the military and even select members of the private sector.
Moreover, there are serious questions about whether data fusion is an effective means of preventing terrorism in the first place, and whether funding the development of these centers is a wise investment of finite public safety resources. Yet federal, state and local governments are increasing their investment in fusion centers without properly assessing whether they serve a necessary purpose.
The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) is one agency currently responsible for consolidating data from all Texas State agencies into one digital location. The DIR’s consultants, EquaTerra, recently found major defects with IBM’s performance towards the consolidation. One original intention was to save the state money by simply streamlining the data into one location, but it seems IBM has proven unable to fulfill the terms of its contract.
While it is not clear how the information will continue to be used, stored, managed, or disseminated, it is clear that the project is failing standards of efficiency and the flailing project is now costing taxpayers $863 million.
In an effort to solve the problem, the DIR recently decided to reach out to the public for comment. Texans are now being asked to offer input to determine whether moving forward with the data consolidation effort is in their best interests. Texans concerned with the continuance of local fusion center data aggregation should contact the following State officials to document their input:
Governor Rick Perry
Advisor to Department of Information Resources
ATTN: Ed Robertson
Phone: (512) 463-1782
DIR Public Information Office
ATTN: Thomas Johnson
P.O. Box 13564
Austin, TX 78711-3564
Fax: (800) 464-1218
Phone: (512) 936-6592
The Peoples’ Campaign for the Constitution’s legal professionals affinity group is pursuing a systematic investigation of fusion centers around the country, with the assistance of lawyers, law students, and paralegals volunteering their time to (a) submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (a model of which has been developed by students at Yale Law School), (b) litigate potential refusals by state governments to disclose requested documents, and/or (c) review responsive documents through a decentralized online process.
If you are a lawyer, law student, or paralegal willing to volunteer time for citizen oversight of domestic spying, please sign up for our legal professionals group and we’ll be in touch.