Does the DVIC Fusion Center Privacy Policy Do Anything? Not Yet

An ambulance, spotted on the Declaration's first visit to survey the facility, is still among the weeds, as if some kind of first-responder scarecrow

A wrecked ambulance outside the center, like a tattered scarecrow, spotted on the Declaration’s first visit to survey the facility, is still among the weeds

By Kenneth Lipp

Yesterday the Declaration received and published a long awaited copy of the privacy policy for the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, an all hazards, all crimes fusion center in South Philadelphia. Our relief at having finally obtained a document by which to gauge and leverage our reporting on the center’s operations was quickly unseated by our concern over the policy’s provisions. Vague language and endless caveats compound general concern over the policy’s erstwhile AWOL status and the overall lack of disclosure relating to the facility. Now the Declaration has learned that the “(full time)” privacy officer for the facility is a role filled by default by its Executive Director Walt Smith.

The policy states that the Privacy Committee will liaise with the community

The policy states that the Privacy Committee will liaise with the community

The Wizard of the DVIC

It is apparent that direct engagement with the Center will be a visit to the Emerald City, with a very amiable Inspector Smith pulling levers behind the curtain. “Come back tomorrow,” the Wizard Smith tells those entreating him, again and again, until finally he is forced to surrender to them nothing but tokens of what they already had.

Yesterday Inspector Smith kindly hand-delivered a policy to the Declaration. In our efforts to supplant the Center’s and its associated entities’ public offerings,  which are sparse at best, we added a page to our menu to house information and important documents.  It serves as the only public notice of the DVIC Privacy Policy, and will hopefully save Inspector Smith and the taxpayers the gas money of delivering the document door-to-door, as it contains the stipulation that it must be available to the public upon request and that the website is “(currently being established and policy will be posted as soon as the website is published).”

The ability of the policy to provide protections of civil rights depends upon a mechanism of penalties for violations and an authority under which those penalties are enforced. This authority, according to the policy, is assigned in some measure to the Privacy Officer and Security Officer, and ultimately to the Executive Director, Smith. Smith wrote the monograph on the DVIC as his thesis for a master’s degree, from a program at the Center for Homeland Defense created just for fusion center directors. Any inquiry made into the DVIC by official channels is redirected to him, and a suspicion cannot help but arise that this a systemic condition representing the immaturity of the facility’s oversight measures and stunted development (this state is reflected in the nascent, forced logic of the fusion center intelligence-led policing model as a whole.).

Like phone calls, the complaint and accountability feedback mechanism for the DVIC seems to have an “answering service,” with all issues being forwarded to Inspector Smith until such time as the designated position is filled.

“You’ll have to see the Wizard.”

“Guard” at the DVIC Entrance on Oregon Avenue

Smith is clearly a busy man, and while this fact mitigates expectations of prompt response to our communications, it only aggravates doubts that the facility is able or even making an earnest attempt to ensure its operations are Constitutional. A Privacy Officer is tasked under the privacy policy with ensuring that the fusion center and all stakeholders comply with not just numerous federal laws and regulations (from the Privacy Act of 1974 to the US Patriot Act), but with the Pennsylvania Constitution, numerous detailed chapters of the PA Consolidated Statutes, the PA Human Relations Act, and the PA Right to Know Act of 2008. Scholar though he may be, Inspector Smith is not a Juris Doctor, and he obviously does not have the time among his duties to act as a responsible legal consultant for an operation combining many dozens of agencies, corporations, and national and global regulatory authorities and information-sharing systems.

Inspector Walt Smith

Inspector Walt Smith

It’s the Money

Fault for the fusion center’s delayed deployment and staff vacancies certainly should not fall on Inspector Smith alone, or even upon him most heavily. Twice during its development the project was suspended due to the truancy or suspected malfeasance of the City of Philadelphia.

After the completion of Phase I, an initial planning and assessment undertaken by SOSSEC, Inc for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Task Force, Phase II was delayed for “about 12 months” while the City of Philadelphia looked for a building for the facility, according to SOSSEC’s VP Eugene Del Coco. And as reported by the Declaration vis-a-vis a Senate report, funds for the project were withheld by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2011 over concerns that the city was spending money to build a Real Time Crime Center on the site, a new construction expense prohibited under its Homeland Security Grant Program award.

A look at the Philadelphia Mayor’s Operating Budget for 2014 shows that the city intends to spend millions of such grant funds on the DVIC this year:

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Philadelphia Mayor’s Operating Budget for 2014 Pg 231

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Philadelphia Mayor’s Operating Budget for 2014 – Pg 75

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Philadelphia Mayor’s Operating Budget for 2014 – Pg 113

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Philadelphia Mayor’s Operating Budget for 2014 – Pg 216

Mayor Michael Nutter has personally made several announcements of impending grand openings on different dates, and even now post-ribbon-cutting, the DVIC seems to be running on one leg with one eye to guide its course. There is no practical way that Inspector Smith, with a skeleton crew perhaps, can assure the public that an endeavor that crosses a multitude of jurisdictions to link dozens of entities, most of which are undisclosed, is being undertaken with due consideration of and response to its inherent risks to civil rights – even part time and not on the weekends, if this is the case.

Inquiry continues, and a meeting suggested yesterday with Inspector Smith, who in any event seems to be the only sanctioned source of official answers, is to be held, tentatively, next week. The Declaration is also conducting an already fruitful “web-mining” investigation to extract informative documents from the Internet, which we will use to enhance our coverage, and add to the DVIC archive on this site.

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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