The Constitution Project today released a new report titled Recommendations for Fusion Centers: Preserving Privacy & Civil Liberties While Protecting Against Crime & Terrorism. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the federal government worked with states and some major cities to develop a network of these centers (there are now nearly 80 of them), to share information among law enforcement and some intelligence agencies. The report summarizes their development and the complex web of laws that apply to their activities, analyzes civil liberties and effectiveness issues, and recommends reforms to this set of programs.
I’m still reading the report, so I hope to provide comments about it in a future post. One reason why I’m interested in this issue is because so much public debate about terrorism and domestic intelligence to date has focused on information collection — like NSA wiretapping, FBI requests for personal info or transactional data, police snooping, etc. — while insufficient attention has been paid to what the governments (at various levels) do with that information. How do they analyze and share it? How do they manage it and weed out the good information from the bad? And how do they measure effectiveness and assess whether they’re doing any of this analytical and sharing work well?
Another reason I’m interested is because so much discussion of intelligence reform to date has focused on structural architecture within the federal government, especially because terrorist attacks (including 9/11 and the foiled underwear bomb attack) have mostly exposed breakdowns in horizontal information-sharing between federal agencies. I fear that at some point in the future, a major attack or plot is going to raise big questions (justified or not) about failure to share information among state or local agencies, or vertically between those agencies and the federal government. I’m not confident we have the right sort of effective and adaptive structure in place, and such a crisis could generate demands for quick reforms — like impose more uniformity; share much more data! — that may contribute to the problem rather than help fix it.