May 20, 2013
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been engaged in massive surveillance of peaceful protesters which undermines protections enshrined in the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Two recent studies raise serious questions about the way the DHS has reacted to Occupy style protests. Let us not forget the primary mission of the DHS is to ”safeguard the United States against terrorism.”
In August of 2012 the bipartisan think tank The Constitution Project issued a report on DHS counter-terrorism fusion centres. It notes how there are 77 active fusion centres in the US which are information sharing hubs where DHS, FBI and state/local law enforcement agencies can pool intelligence and coordinate their activities. This report investigates the use of counter-terrorism fusion centres and notes that many:
”pose serious risks to civil liberties, including rights of free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion, racial and religious equality, privacy, and the right to be free from unnecessary government intrusion. Several fusion centers have issued bulletins that characterize a wide variety of religious and political groups as threats to national security. In some instances, state law enforcement agencies that funnel information to fusion centers have improperly monitored and infiltrated anti-war and environmental organizations. ”
The report further notes that many fusion centres are keeping files upon people without proper justification. Racial, political and religious profiling of ordinary citizens is being carried which undermines First Amendment rights to freedom of association, freedom of religious and political beliefs.
Apparently, there are numerous examples of counter-terrorism fusion centres targeting a wide variety of different political groups for surveillance and infiltration. For example, between 2005-2007 the DHS and Maryland State Police spied upon and infiltrated anti-war, anti-death penalty and animal rights groups. Despite the fact that these were peaceful protesters who engaged in no criminal activity the surveillance went on for several years with many activists being designated terrorists. The report observes that: ”All told, data characterizing 53 peaceful activists (including two nuns) as “terrorists” was transmitted to at least seven federal and state agencies, including the National Security Agency.”
The Constitution Project report into DHS counter-terrorism fusion centres concludes with the recommendation that,”Congress, DHS or DOJ should commission an independent study of fusion center performance, sustainability and impact upon civil liberties.”
This violation of civil liberties is further confirmed by the release of DHS documents released by the Partnership for Civil Justice on 2 April 2013. Freedom of Information Act requests saw the DHS release hundreds of pages of heavily redacted documents that reveal the routine surveillance and disruption of free speech Occupy protests by DHS agents in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies.