Thursday, April 10, 2014 was a National Day of Action against Fusion Centers. Diverse, multiracial grassroots coalitions from around the country held rallies, press conferences, and creative actions to challenges civil liberties by fusion centers, which coordinate the surveillance activities of local police alongside federal agencies like the NSA and FBI. Fusion centers have operated at unknown cost, failed to meaningfully serve a public benefit, and drawn critics including Senators across the partisan spectrum, the ACLU, environmentalists, Muslim Americans, peace activists, and Ron Paul supporters.
Participating cities in yesterday’s action included: Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Below the jump are quotes from organizers, as well as photos and videos from several of the sites.
Patricia Burke of local activist group Halt MA Smart Meters brings to our attention an effort by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to study how to achieve universal adoption of smart meters on residential homes in Massachusetts. This implicates the Fourth Amendment because electricity usage within a home, if gathered many times over a 24-hour period and transmitted to a government agency, may constitute a warrantless search of that home to which the home’s resident has not consented. The IT Law Wiki provides an excellent overview of the constitutional issues here.
It is unclear from the documents provided by DPU whether any plan actually exists for what to do with the data gathered by utility companies such as National Grid. It is possible that the data would remain with the utilities, and would be used to implement peak pricing that in turn would both increase profits and reduce stress on the grid at peak times. However, as we have seen with the NSA scandals, it is very easy for government agencies to get court orders requesting the ongoing release of such records by utilities to law enforcement. The records would, under the “third-party doctrine,” probably be considered to be the property of the utility company, and therefore law enforcement would typically not seek either the permission of the resident or a duly executed warrant from a judge before accessing this data.
Long-time readers of this blog will know where we’re going with this. Yes, it’s fusion centers.
Yesterday, starting at 1pm and stretching long into the night, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on pending legislation, including on many privacy and surveillance-related bills. Members of the public started lining up more than an hour beforehand, trying to get on the list to testify not just on the privacy bills but on domestic violence protections, transgender rights, immigrant rights and animal cruelty. By 1pm, the crowd numbered in the hundreds, and the room was obviously not going to hold all of us, so we got moved to the much larger Gardner Auditorium which (just about) held everybody.