We’re long-time critics of the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, or “BRIC.” BRIC is one of over 80 “fusion centers” across the nation. that spy on Americans without probable cause.
We filed a public records request this January to delve deeper into BRIC’s surveillance practices. We partnered with the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Muslim Justice League and the Student Immigrant Movement, We have just received the first responsive record: BRIC’s “Criminal Intelligence File Guidelines.”
The key to understanding this document is that BRIC is legally obliged to follow 28 CFR Part 23. This is part of a Clinton-era Executive Order that tried to ensure that “criminal intelligence systems” don’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights. It makes it illegal for BRIC to keep a file on you not based on a “criminal predicate” — in other words, reasonable suspicion of your involvement in an actual crime.
As it turns out, BRIC’s attitude to this whole “Constitution” thing is a little … different.
BRIC’s Permanent Files
For its “Permanent” files, BRIC does indeed require a criminal predicate — though this document doesn’t include any information on how well that policy is followed.
BRIC’s Temporary Files
For its “Temporary” files, however, BRIC retains information on Boston area residents where “involvement in the suspected activity is questionable”, or where their identity cannot be established with certainty. The examples are that they have “possible associations with known criminals,” or that they have “criminal history” and “could again become criminally active.” BRIC retains “Temporary” files for up to a year, to see if information emerges that would enable to upgrade it to a “Permanent” file.
No. No, no. That’s not how the Fourth Amendment works. The government isn’t supposed to keep “criminal intelligence files” of people they generally believe to be Bad, or people with Bad Associations, based on a belief that they have a generalized propensity to commit crimes in the future. BRIC’s belief must be a reasonable one, based on evidence of your involvement in an actual crime. This violates 28 CFR Part 23 and, with it, the Fourth Amendment itself.
BRIC’s Interim Files
Oh, and it gets worse. Just in case their rules on “Temporary” criminal intelligence files don’t provide them with enough room to wiggle around the Constitution, BRIC allows itself a further category of “Interim” files. Apparently, BRIC can open an “Interim” file and retain it for up to 90 days if they receive “information that, absent additional information or change, would be deemed unnecessary for retention beyond a short term period,” or that is “specific to an anticipated event or incident with the potential for criminal conduct.”
I know, vague much?
It seems BRIC considers that they can open a file for 90 days based on literally anything at all. There’s no such thing as an “event or incident” with no “potential for criminal conduct.” This could cover everything down to your aunt’s Sunday evening knitting circle. “Interim Files” only exist as a category to allow BRIC essentially unfettered discretion.
To be fair, the Guidelines also tell BRIC employees what shouldn’t be in an intelligence file. This includes protected criminal record information, information “based solely on support of an unpopular cause”, information “based on ethnic background”, “based on religious or political affiliations” or “based on non-criminal personal habits;” and “associations that are not of a criminal nature.” However, we know from their gang databasing practices that their definition of what constitutes “associations of a criminal nature” is extremely broad, and that their notion of surveillance not “based solely” on religion, politics or ethnicity may differ sharply from Bostonians’ common understanding.
In practice, these Guidelines give BRIC permission to surveil “events or incidents” that it already dislikes and has a track record of surveilling; namely, protests that challenge the police themselves, or the current economic, social or racial arrangements in our society that police exist to violently defend.
We call on BRIC to make available to the public, with any legally necessary redactions, a representative sample of its current Temporary, Interim and Permanent Files, and then to delete the Temporary and Interim Files as contrary to the Fourth Amendment.
Then, at least, we will know how much surveillance BRIC is conducting that is not based on at least reasonable suspicion of involvement in an actual crime.