CHICAGO - Noting that the Illinois State Police (ISP) are not responding to lawful requests for documents under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today asked a state court in Chicago to compel the police agency to turn over records about the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center (STIC). STIC is Illinois' "fusion center," an entity that integrates the gathering, storage, sharing, and analysis of information about suspected criminal activity among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Illinois. Fusion centers have been a focal point for controversy because they collect and share massive amounts of personal information about members of the public, often without adequate safeguards, oversight, and transparency.
"It is dangerous when government - at any level - operates in secret," said Adam Schwartz, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois. "It is more dangerous here since the activities of fusion centers around the nation raise serious concerns about centralizing unchecked authority in a single agency. Combining unchecked authority with secrecy is bound to lead to abuse."
The ACLU of Illinois has asked the court to order the ISP to share critical information about the STIC, including:
- Records about STIC's use of massive private databases; and
- Records about STIC's use of the internet.
Illinois' STIC is operated by the ISP, and is based in Springfield. Its original mandate in 2003 was to gather terrorism intelligence, but its mission has dramatically expanded beyond terrorism to cover information about all crimes, hazards, and threats. STIC has scores of employees, and hosts analysts from a broad array of federal, state, and local police agencies. STIC has direct access to dozens of public and private record systems containing sensitive information about many members of the public, including criminal background, digital photographs, and employment, medical, and credit history. Without proper safeguards and oversight, this vast concentration of sensitive information in government hands endangers civil liberties. It is unclear whether Illinois has adopted the necessary privacy rule - which is why the ACLU has filed this FOIA enforcement lawsuit.
Press reports across the country paint a troubling picture of fusion center activity. The fusion center in Virginia, for example, labeled that state's historic black colleges as a "possible threat." An analyst at the fusion center in Wisconsin targeted protestors on both sides of the abortion debate as a threat to public safety. The Maryland fusion center targeted and spread information about dozens of lawful advocacy organizations. The Missouri fusion center urged surveillance of the supporters of Congressman Ron Paul.
"If law enforcement fusion centers are going to gather a vast quantity of personal information about many people, at a minimum privacy policies must be adopted. We also need rules to protect the First Amendment rights of all persons - no matter what their political beliefs - to engage in speech about public policy issues without being investigated by a fusion center," added Dan Feeney, a lawyer with Miller Shakman & Beem who is cooperating with the ACLU on this case.