By Mike Shultz, Infoglide Software CEO
In a post last April, we talked about the privacy/security balance issue for fusion centers and for vendors with supporting technology. Now an article in the Austin Sunday paper about a proposed fusion center again highlights the tension between security and privacy. Each time a fusion center is proposed, the story goes like this:
“Local law enforcement officials see benefit of two-way information sharing with other local, state, and national agencies… privacy groups are concerned about unnecessary intrusions into personal information.”
As of July 2009, 72 such centers have been put in place and are operational across the country. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in conjunction with the Justice Department, has tried to address the need for consistent operating principles. Starting in 2005, they published and continue to maintain a set of guidelines suggesting how to establish collaboration and data sharing between agencies while protecting the privacy and civil liberties of citizens.
It would be nice to report that every fusion center has performed flawlessly in solving crimes while preserving American freedoms. Given that they are run by human beings, execution at every center hasn’t always fallen within the guidelines. There are instances where the centers have been ineffective, and there are instances where controversial privacy issues have been raised when centers overstepped their bounds.
The Austin American Statesman article presented a balanced view of the issues surrounding fusion centers without sensationalizing them. Instances of controversies surrounding fusion centers were discussed, yet instances of the benefits of existing centers were also given.
As Jack Thomas Tomarchio, former deputy undersecretary for intelligence and analysis operations at DHS was quoted, “These things are brand new. They haven’t been around 20 years, and even the ones that have been around three or four years are still in their formative years. In many cases, they don’t have a track record.”
While existing software technology addresses both privacy and security issues, the ultimate decision to use it wisely falls to the people who run the fusion centers. In the City of Austin case, the concerns of privacy and security seem to be receiving equal consideration so that the best results can be achieved without trampling on civil liberties.