Privacy SOS

We do not spy on US citizens, just anti-government groups, says fusion center director

The Arkansas State Fusion Center

An official from an Arkansas State Fusion Center recently spoke to the press to clear up what he called "misconceptions" about what his office actually does, with depressingly hilarious results. (For some background on fusion centers, click here.)

"The misconceptions are that we are conducting spying operations on US citizens, which is of course not the fact. That is absolutely not what we do," fusion center director Richard Davis told the local press.

Fusion center employees are in a tight spot to justify the existence of their operations after multiple congressional reports over the past year took them to task for being poorly run, duplicative of other counterterrorism efforts, privacy violative wastes of money, or some combination of the three. 

So what does Mr. Davis' fusion center do, then? Why does it exist?

The Arkansas fusion center director, after having flatly denied that his office spies on US citizens, told the reporter the following:

"I do what I do because of what happened on 9/11," Davis says. "There's this urge and this feeling inside that you want to do something, and this is a perfect opportunity for me." 
Davis says Arkansas hasn't collected much information about international plots, but they do focus on groups closer to home.
"We focus a little more on that, domestic terrorism and certain groups that are anti-government," he says. "We want to kind of take a look at that and receive that information."
So the fusion center does in fact spy on US citizens! Among them, "groups that are anti-government." But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself here: perhaps Mr. Davis thinks that people who hold "anti-government" views should not be treated as US citizens?
The fact is, in the United States, holding "anti-government" views is protected by the First Amendment. And everyone in the United States, not just its citizens, is protected by the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.
Disliking the government isn't a crime. But that's not stopping many fusion centers from associating dissent with terrorism.
Here in Boston we learned that the Boston police intelligence unit spied on anti-war and other activist groups for years, filing "intelligence reports" on activists at its fusion center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. Fusion centers in other states have reported on people for high crimes like putting political stickers up in restrooms, or participating in anti-death penalty organizing.
Activists in Los Angeles have brought their concerns about inappropriate political spying straight to the fusion center itself. Perhaps people in Arkansas should tell Mr. Davis how they feel about their tax dollars supporting shadowy surveillance of so-called "anti-government" groups. Then again, they might not want to be listed as "anti-government."
If you live in Massachusetts, please take action to ensure that our two fusion centers don't (continue to) spy on people who are protesting the government. The Free Speech Act, now before state legislators, would bar the police from spying on people unless they have reasonable suspicion to believe their targets are involved in criminal activity. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.