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

  • Surveillance Court Finds FBI Repeatedly Misused FISA Program to Conduct Unlawful Surveillance of Americans + (Apr. 29, 2021)
    The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) recently disclosed an opinion revealing that the FBI has repeatedly misused Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to gather information in domestic investigations. Section 702 (sometimes referred to as the "PRISM" program) authorizes certain programs of surveillance of private communications for foreign intelligence purposes, without prior court approval, where the surveillance targets non-US persons located abroad. The law has been widely criticized, in part, because of the "backdoor search" loophole that allows domestic law enforcement officials to access Americans' communications without a warrant. The surveillance court previously found that the FBI's procedures for obtaining information through backdoor searches violated the Fourth Amendment. The newly published opinion demonstrates how the FBI has failed to reform these unlawful practices. An audit revealed that the agency searched FISA information 40 times last year while investigating a wide range of purely domestic crimes, including health-care fraud, gang violence, domestic terrorism by "racially motivated violent extremists," and public corruption. Again, the FISC expressed "concern[] about the [FBI's] apparent widespread [Section 702] violations." EPIC has long tracked FISA court orders and advocated for FISA reform. More recently, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking disclosure of a report concerning FBI use of Section 702 authority for domestic criminal investigations and participated as amicus to address the scope of U.S. surveillance authorities in the Court of Justice of the European Union.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge End to DC-Area Facial Recognition System + (Apr. 28, 2021)
    In a letter to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, an EPIC-led coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and good government groups urged the Council to end the National Capital Region Facial Recognition System (NCR-FRILS) project and disclose all documents associated with it. In a Washington Post article covering the coalition letter, EPIC Senior Counsel, Jeramie Scott, argued that "facial recognition is a particularly invasive surveillance technology that undermines democracy and First Amendment rights." NCR-FRILS is a facial recognition system used by police departments and government agencies in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. The system runs comparisons against a database of 1.4 million local mug shots. The project was never publicly announced and was only revealed during the prosecution of a Black Lives Matter protester last fall. EPIC previously submitted a series of open government requests to police departments in the DC-area seeking more information on the system.
  • EPIC, Coalition Call for Ban on Corporate Use of Facial Recognition + (Apr. 14, 2021)
    In an open letter released today, EPIC and twenty four civil rights and social justice organizations called on elected officials to ban corporate, private, and government use of facial recognition technology, suggesting Portland, OR's recent ban on facial recognition as a model. The letter also urges corporate leaders to ban the technology within their companies. The coalition notes recent uses of facial recognition to monitor workers and instances of wrongful firings when facial recognition systems mis-identified black gig workers. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • Virginia to Ban Local Police from Using Facial Recognition + (Apr. 9, 2021)
    A bill passed in Virginia will ban local law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition technology without prior legislative approval starting July 1, 2021. Even when such approval is given, the bill further requires local police agencies to have "exclusive control" over the facial recognition systems they use, preventing the use of Clearview AI and other commercial FR products. However, Virginia State Police and other state law enforcement agencies may continue to use facial recognition without legislative approval. EPIC and a coalition recently urged New York City Council to enact a comprehensive ban on facial recognition. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge New York City Council to Enact Comprehensive Ban on Government Use of Facial Recognition + (Mar. 30, 2021)
    EPIC and a coalition of civil-rights and community-based organizations submitted a letter to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson urging the council to introduce a comprehensive ban on government use of facial recognition. The letter highlights NYPD's use of facial recognition along with other NYC agencies, the potential for far-reaching surveillance posed by facial recognition technology, and the risk of errors from racial bias in facial recognition algorithms and poor police practices. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance and through the Public Voice Coalition, gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge NYPD to Limit Use of Surveillance Technologies and Disclose More Information on Their Use + (Feb. 25, 2021)
    In comments to the New York Police Department, EPIC called for meaningful limits on the use of mass surveillance technologies including facial recognition, airplanes and drones, automated license plate readers, and social media monitoring tools. EPIC also joined with privacy and civil liberties advocates and academics in coalition comments urging the NYPD to make a good faith effort to meet the requirements of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technologies (POST) Act. The POST Act requires the NYPD to publish impact statements and use policies for 36 surveillance technologies. The Department's draft policies fail to disclose necessary information including detailed data storage, retention, and auditing practices, do not name the vendors of these technologies, and gloss over systemic racial discrimination in the use of these technologies with boilerplate language. The disclosures illuminate the use of technologies by the NYPD that enable mass surveillance and have extensive documented risks of bias and inaccuracy. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance, and through the Public Voice coalition gathered support from over 100 organizations and experts from more than 30 countries.
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge Biden Administration to Halt Use of Facial Recognition + (Feb. 17, 2021)
    In a coalition letter, EPIC and over 40 other privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups called on the Biden administration to 1) place a moratorium on federal use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies, 2) stop state and local governments from purchasing facial recognition services with federal funds, and 3) support the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act. The coalition letter highlights the threat of facial recognition to create a panopticon of surveillance, the particular harms to people of color, women, and youth from mis-identification by facial recognition, and widespread adoption of facial recognition without public input. Last year, EPIC and a coalition of privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights groups urged Congress to pass Senator Markey's Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Act bill. In 2019, EPIC 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.
  • European Parliament Guidelines Call for Moratorium on Facial Recognition + (Jan. 22, 2021)
    In a report released on January 20, the European Parliament outlines the need for new legal frameworks for artificial intelligence and biometric surveillance. The report raises objections to both civilian and military uses of artificial intelligence, mass surveillance, and deepfakes. The European Parliament was particularly concerned with facial recognition technology, proposing a moratorium on its use in public and semi-public spaces. EPIC leads a campaign to Ban Face Surveillance through the Public Voice coalition.
  • 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.

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