Pennsylvania ACLU on Philadelphia Fusion Center Privacy Concerns: Not on Our Radar

By Dustin Slaughter

Despite a recent release of a Los Angeles fusion center’s controversial Suspicious Activity Reports spurred by ACLU legal pressure, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told The Declaration yesterday: We do not have anyone here in our PA offices who can specifically comment” on the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (DVIC), nor on troubling revelations pertaining to the South Philadelphia fusion center’s apparent lax privacy safeguards.

The PA ACLU did not respond to our offer to email them the first publicly-available DVIC privacy policy, despite other ACLU chapters, such as in Illinois, having had to file a lawsuit to obtain that state’s fusion center policy.

The furor over the use of Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) by law enforcement, fire departments, and the private sector, reignited last month with the ACLU’s release of hundreds of pages [PDF] obtained from the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC).

Another SAR training benefit, per DHS’ Sobczyk: Fire/EMS “get into areas with no warrant, and see things police will never see.” #IACP2013

— Dustin M. Slaughter (@DustinSlaughter) October 23, 2013

The released SARs detailed innocuous and Constitutionally-protected behavior ranging from “suspicious” Middle Eastern men buying pallets of water to a planned anti-police brutality demonstration.

David Sobczyk, a representative from the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI), heralded the same Los Angeles fusion center during an international police conference in Philadelphia last month as a leading example in intelligence fusion operations, in that the officials at the center were the first in the U.S. to adopt the NSI program, which Sobczyk maintains has “built-in” privacy and civil liberties protections.

Sobczyk lauded the LAPD for being one of the first LE agencies to utilize Suspicious Activity Reporting. #SAR #IACP2013

— Dustin M. Slaughter (@DustinSlaughter) October 23, 2013

The Declaration first reported on November 2nd that officials at the DVIC were either unwilling or unable to produce a privacy policy, despite repeated inquiries from us over a 10-month period. According to a senior official within the Philadelphia Police Department, who requested anonymity, there is no full-time privacy officer at the facility either.

The center’s director, Inspector Walt Smith, hand-delivered a copy of the policy to The Declaration on Monday, apparently in response to Saturday’s critical article.

As The Declaration’s Kenneth Lipp reported yesterday, Inspector Smith currently serves as the fusion center’s privacy officer.

This raises the obvious question: how can one supervisor, with a long list of other duties, competently fulfill the responsibilities of a full-time privacy officer and ensure that privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights aren’t being abused at a facility which gathers intelligence reports from four different states?

Just as importantly, why is the Pennsylvania ACLU oblivious to this fusion center in their own backyard, while other chapters are clearly fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure accountability?

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