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

  • FAA Announces Final Rule for Remote Drone ID + (Jan. 6, 2021)
    The Federal Aviation Administration posted the agency's final rule for remote drone identification. The final rule will require all drones to broadcast drone ID information in real-time, eliminating the option in the proposed rule to forgo real-time broadcast and only submit drone ID information for retention by a third party. EPIC previously commented on the FAA's proposed rule, urging the FAA to require all drones to provide real-time public access to drone ID information. In 2015, EPIC argued that drones should be required to broadcast relevant information to the public while in operation.
  • New York Enacts Law Suspending Use of Facial Recognition in Schools + (Dec. 23, 2020)
    A bill signed into law yesterday suspends the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology by New York State schools. The ban will last for two years or until a study by the State Education Department is complete and finds that facial recognition technology is appropriate for use in schools, whichever takes longer. EPIC leads a campaign to ban face surveillance through the Public Voice coalition. EPIC recently filed a DC Consumer Protection Complaint alleging that online test proctoring companies have violated students' privacy and engaged in unfair and deceptive practices.
  • Massachusetts Poised to Ban State Use of Biometric Surveillance + (Dec. 1, 2020)
    An omnibus police reform bill banning public agencies or officials from using facial recognition technology is set to pass the Massachusetts legislature in the coming week. The bill contains an exception for law enforcement to perform facial recognition searches against the state driver's license database, but requires the state to publish statistics on how often officers request access to the database. EPIC's Policy Director Caitriona Fitzgerald testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary to urge that a moratorium on facial recognition be included in a previous version of the bill. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • LAPD Bans Use of Clearview AI Facial Recognition + (Nov. 19, 2020)
    The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) issued a moratorium on the use of third-party commercial facial recognition systems including Clearview AI. However, the LAPD will continue to use a Los Angeles County system which searches booking images. LAPD officers have used Clearview AI at least 475 times since 2019. Clearview AI is a particularly dangerous facial recognition system because it queries a database of over 3 billion images scraped from social media sites, compromising the privacy of more individuals than smaller-scale systems. EPIC recently filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) use of Clearview AI. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance.
  • EPIC Seeks Documents on Facial Recognition System Used to Identify D.C. Protester + (Nov. 13, 2020)
    EPIC filed a series of open government requests seeking information on a previously undisclosed facial recognition system used by police departments in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. EPIC sent requests to Metropolitan Police Department, Maryland National Capitol Park Police, and Montgomery County Police Department. The system was first revealed by the Washington Post on November 2, 2020. A protester accused of assaulting a police officer during a June 1 protest at D.C.'s Lafayette square was identified when police ran an image of him from Twitter against the National Capitol Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System (NCR-FRILS). EPIC recently filed suit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement to obtain documents about the agency's use of facial recognition. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • #ReclaimYourFace: European Civil Society Groups Oppose Biometric Surveillance + (Nov. 13, 2020)
    A coalition of twelve European civil society groups launched a new campaign this month calling for a ban on "biometric mass surveillance". To date the campaign has gathered over 5,000 signatures. EPIC has launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries. In October, EPIC urged the Department of Homeland Security to rescind a proposed rule allowing broad biometric data collection and suspend the Department's use of facial recognition.
  • Portland, Maine Votes to Add Teeth to Ban on Facial Recognition + (Nov. 4, 2020)
    Voters in Portland, Maine passed a ballot initiative that strengthens the city's ban on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and city agencies. The City Council previously passed an order banning face surveillance, but the initiative strengthens the ban with a private right of action and penalties for violations of the law. A growing list of cities have banned facial recognition technology, including Boston, Oakland, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. EPIC has launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • 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.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge University of Miami to Ban Face Surveillance + (Oct. 27, 2020)
    EPIC joined over 20 consumer, privacy, civil liberties, and student organizations to call on the University of Miami to ban the use of facial recognition technology. The coalition letter comes after reports the University used facial recognition to identify student protesters. The coalition argued that "facial recognition technology is invasive and ineffective." EPIC has launched a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice coalition gathered the support of over 100 organizations and many leading experts across 30 plus countries. Earlier this year, an EPIC-led coalition called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend the suspension of face surveillance systems across the federal government.
  • Federal Government Advises on Federal Laws Potentially Violated When Intercepting Drones + (Aug. 19, 2020)
    The FAA, DOJ, FCC, and DHS jointly issued the "Advisory on the Application of Federal Laws to the Acquisition and Use of Technology to Detect and Mitigate Unmanned Aircraft Systems." The advisory covers the applicable federal laws that non-federal or private entities might violate if they sought to detect or mitigate drone threats, including the Wiretap Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Congress previously granted the DOJ and DHS broad authority to detect and mitigate drone "threats" in the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 that was incorporated into the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 required a report on drone surveillance risks but did not establish any baseline privacy safeguards. EPIC has repeatedly urged both Congress and the FAA to take decisive action to limit the use of drones for surveillance and to establish a national database detailing drone surveillance capabilities.

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