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Fusion Centers

Fusion centers are surveillance and intelligence-gathering outfits run by state and local police, often with staffing and funding from the Department of Homeland Security. Established in the wake of 9/11, fusion centers are supposed to provide "information fusion" by funneling local reports of potential terrorist activities to DHS. In practice, fusion centers provide cheap and unsupervised surveillance technologies to local police while sending unreliable information back to DHS. Instead of engaging in counter-terrorism, fusion centers often end up supporting local police and private companies, particularly large retail businesses, in surveilling suspected shoplifters, protesters, and vulnerable communities.

EPIC calls for ending federal funding of fusion centers.

Top News

  • EPIC Urges DHS Advisory Committee to Investigate Fusion Centers + (Oct. 27, 2020)
    EPIC Law Fellow, Jake Wiener, spoke at the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee's public meeting today and urged the Committee to investigate rampant privacy and civil liberties violations by fusion centers. Fusion centers are centralized systems that pool and analyze intelligence from federal, state, local, and private sector entities. Addressing the Committee's new tasking, Mr. Wiener directed the Committee's attention to recent reports of protest monitoring and ineffective privacy oversight. He urged the Committee to recommend a ban on the use of facial recognition technology at fusion centers and to consider whether funding of fusion centers is justified in light of the privacy and civil liberties harms the centers create. EPIC previously urged the Advisory Committee to recommend that Customs and Border Protection halt the use of facial recognition.
  • Supreme Court Upholds Residents-Only Provision in Virginia Open Records Law + (Apr. 29, 2013)
    The Supreme Court ruled today that Virginia's freedom of information law, which allows only Virginia residents to pursue open government requests, does not violate the U.S. Constitution. Petitioners argued that the law impermissibly burdened out-of-state residents ability to provide open records services to clients, to purchase and transfer Virginia property, to access Virginia court proceedings, and to access important public information. But the Court found in McBurney v. Young that the majority of state records were available to non-residents in some form and that there was no fundamental "right to access public information" at the time the Constitution was adopted. EPIC and other open government groups filed a amicus brief arguing that residents-only provisions limit public access to information necessary for political advocacy. In 2008, EPIC obtained documents from Virginia revealing an agreement to limit oversight of a state fusion center. For more information, see EPIC: McBurney v. Young and EPIC v. Virginia Department of State Police: Fusion Center Secrecy Bill.
  • Senate Report Finds Fusion Centers "Wasteful," Likely Violate Federal Privacy Laws + (Oct. 3, 2012)
    A Senate Investigations Committee has released a new report on "State and Local Fusion Centers", government data warehouses that store an enormous amount of information on Americans. The Senate report found that Fusion Centers, operated by the Department of Homeland Security, "often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence" and stored records on U.S. persons, "possibly in violation of the Privacy Act." In 2007, EPIC's "Spotlight on Surveillance" warned that Fusion Centers would lead to "abuse and misuse." In subsequent FOIA cases, and comments to the DHS, EPIC helped document the many problems with the federal Fusion Center program, including lack of oversight and ineffective privacy safeguards. For more information, see EPIC: Information Fusion Centers and Privacy and EPIC: EPIC v. Virginia Department of State Police: Fusion Center Secrecy Bill.
  • More top news

  • Maine Becomes First State to Enact Statewide Ban on Face Surveillance + (Jun. 30, 2021)
    The Maine Legislature has enacted the country's strongest statewide facial recognition law. Maine's new law prohibits public officials and public employees at the state, county and municipal levels from possessing and using facial recognition technology, with extremely limited exceptions. The Maine law includes a private right of action, meaning that individuals may bring a lawsuit if they believe a government agency or official has violated the law. EPIC Board Member Shoshana Zuboff testified in support of the legislation. "An individual’s ability to control access to his or her identity and personal information, including determining when, how, and to what purpose these are revealed, is an essential aspect of personal security and privacy guaranteed by the Bill of Rights," Professor Zuboff said. "The use of facial recognition technology erodes that ability." EPIC has joined a number of coalitions urging a ban on facial recognition including: an international letter opposing the technology, a statement of concerns on police use of FR, and EPIC's Ban Face Surveillance campaign. EPIC recently endorsed legislation that would ban federal law enforcement use of facial recognition and pressure state law enforcement to do the same.
  • 4th Circuit Rules That Baltimore Warrantless Aerial Surveillance Program Violates Fourth Amendment + (Jun. 24, 2021)
    The en banc 4th Circuit ruled today that Baltimore's warrantless aerial surveillance program violates the Fourth Amendment because it "enables police to deduce from the whole of individuals' movements[.]" The Aerial Investigation Research program was a public-private partnership with Persistent Surveillance Systems that flew several surveillance planes above Baltimore, capturing detailed video of 32 square miles of the city per second. Using the AIR pilot program, Baltimore Police were able to track individual movements throughout the city for up to 12 hours a day. The pilot program was not renewed at the end of its 6-month term last year. EPIC joined an amicus brief in the case, arguing that under Carpenter v. United States the Baltimore Police Department's ability to track individuals with at least 45 days of flight video augmented by automated license plate reader systems constituted a search. EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in Carpenter v. United States and has long fought to limit drone surveillance and other forms of aerial spying.
  • In EPIC Suit, DOJ Identifies 182 Location Data Requests in District of Rhode Island from 2016-2019 + (Jun. 21, 2021)
    As part of EPIC's ongoing lawsuit for cell phone surveillance orders issued by federal prosecutors, the Department of Justice identified 182 orders and warrants for cell phone location data under ยง 2703(d) from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Rhode Island from 2016-2019. During the same time period, the office handled 453 criminal cases. The District of Rhode Island is one of the smallest districts in the country. EPIC has previously obtained the number of location data requests for the District of Delaware and the Virgin Islands, two of the five districts that the DOJ has agreed to search for location data requests. EPIC is awaiting responses from two of the agency's other prosecutor's offices and will continue to update its comparative table as remaining districts release more information. Currently, prosecutors do not release any comprehensive or uniform data about their surveillance of cell phone location data. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the collection of cell phone location data without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The case is EPIC v. DOJ, No. 18-1814 (D.D.C.).
  • European Data Protection Authorities Issue Joint Call for Ban on Facial Recognition Across the EU + (Jun. 21, 2021)
    In a joint opinion regarding the European Commission's Proposal for Regulation on artificial intelligence, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on the use of "AI for automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces, and some other uses of AI that can lead to unfair discrimination." Europe's two main data protection authorities also critiqued the European Commission for failing to include international law enforcement efforts in the proposed regulations. The joint opinion is the latest in an increasing chorus of calls for a ban on facial recognition. EPIC has joined a number of coalitions urging a ban on facial recognition including: an international letter opposing the technology, a statement of concerns on police use of FR, and EPIC's Ban Face Surveillance campaign. EPIC recently endorsed legislation that would ban federal law enforcement use of facial recognition and pressure state law enforcement to do the same.
  • EPIC Asks D.C. Circuit to Review Decision Endorsing Secrecy of Drone Advisory Committee Working Groups + (Jun. 18, 2021)
    EPIC has petitioned the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a recent decision by a three-judge panel allowing the FAA's Drone Advisory Committee to conduct much of its work in secret. EPIC filed suit in 2018 against the industry-dominated Committee, which consistently ignored the privacy risks posed by the deployment of drones—even after identifying privacy as a top public concern. As a result of EPIC's lawsuit, the Committee was forced to disclose hundreds of pages of records under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. But the lower court ruled that the Committee did not need to disclose records from its secretive subcommittees—a decision that divided panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed in April. Circuit Judge Robert L. Wilkins, writing in dissent, accused the majority of "doing violence to the text" of the FACA and argued that the decision "undermines FACA's purpose and greenlights an easily abusable system[.]" EPIC's petition highlights ways in which the panel's opinion conflicts with past D.C. Circuit decisions and warns that the ruling gives federal agencies "a legal roadmap to evade the public scrutiny that Congress intended FACA to provide. " The case is EPIC v. Drone Advisory Committee, No. 19-5238 (D.C. Cir.).
  • EPIC, Coalition Calls for Surveillance Reforms in Response to DOJ Surveillance of Congress and Reporters + (Jun. 18, 2021)
    In a coalition letter, EPIC and more than twenty civil society groups called for reforms to surveillance statutes authorizing collection of sensitive information and gag orders. The letter follows recent revelations that the Department of Justice spied on members of Congress and the press by collecting their communications and issued gag orders to hide that surveillance. The coalition also called for a thorough investigation by Congress and the DOJ. EPIC recently endorsed a bill to stop government use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance tools.
  • After Meeting with EPIC, DC Council Chairman Seeks More Information About DC-Area Facial Recognition System + (Jun. 10, 2021)
    In a DC Council Hearing (video starts at 13:22), Chairman Phil Mendelson asked Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's (MWCOG's) Executive Director Chuck Bean for more information on the soon to be shuttered DC-area facial recognition system. The Chairman's questions were prompted by a meeting with EPIC in which EPIC staff pushed for more disclosures on the MWCOG's role in the creation of a secret facial recognition system used to surveil Black Lives Matter protesters last year. Recently, EPIC joined over 40 other organizations to detail the issues with cops using facial recognition and call for a law enforcement ban on the technology's use.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Global Ban on Biometric Recognition Technologies + (Jun. 7, 2021)
    In an open letter, EPIC and a coalition of more than 175 civil society organizations, activists, technologists, and other experts called "for an outright ban on uses of facial recognition and remote biometric recognition technologies that enable mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance." The letter urges lawmakers around the world to stop public investment in facial recognition, prohibit government and private use of facial recognition in public spaces, and mandate disclosure and reparations to individuals monitored or harmed by biometric mass surveillance systems. The letter identifies one-to-many facial recognition identification (comparing an image to a gallery of identified images) as inherently dangerous to the public because the databases of images enable discriminatory targeted surveillance and the technology itself enables comprehensive public surveillance. EPIC began pushing for a ban in 2019 with the launch of the Ban Face Surveillance campaign and recently joined over 40 other organizations to call for a ban on U.S. law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Law Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 3, 2021)
    In a statement of concerns, EPIC and a coalition of more than 40 privacy, civil liberties, immigrants rights, and good government groups stated that "the most comprehensive approach to addressing the harms of face recognition would be to entirely cease its use by law enforcement." The statement lists six concerns with police use of the technology that can only be addressed by halting its use. The coalition calls for a moratorium or ban on use of facial recognition and urges Congress to not preempt state or local bans in any federal legislation addressing facial recognition. EPIC recently organized a coalition letter that led to the shutdown of a DC-area facial recognition system previously used on Black Lives Matter protesters. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • King County, WA Bans Local Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Jun. 2, 2021)
    An ordinance passed in King County, Washington bans "any person or entity acting on behalf of a King County administrative office or executive department" fromusing facial recognition technology or information derived from it. The ban includes the King County Sheriffs Department. Seattle's King County is the first county in the nation to ban government use of facial recognition technology. EPIC recently sought records on the US Postal Service's Internet Covert Operations Program use of Clearview AI facial recognition and other surveillance software. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition has gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.

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