When it comes to the new surveillance network, mission gallop may be a more apt term than mission creep.
Surveillance “fusion” centers, created as terrorism-fighting tools, very soon adopted an “all crimes” and “all hazards” mission that is substantially broader than the laws that created them envisioned and is transforming the nature of policing. Video surveillance systems, funded by Department of Homeland Security grants to fight terrorism, have been rationalized to the public as crime-fighting tools and are collecting and storing vast amounts of information about our everyday lives.
The systems that are being created are ripe for abuse. Here are a few examples that have come to light:
- Errol Southers, a former FBI agent who was nominated by the White House to head the Transportation Security Administration, admitted in a letter to key Senators that he had committed a “grave error in judgment” when he accessed criminal records to get information about his estranged wife’s new boyfriend and passed it on to the police (Boston Globe, January 1, 2010).
- Private employees who are among the more than 7.6 million contracted workers in the federal government peeked into the private passport files of all three presidential candidates (Washington Post, March 25, 2008).
- Two FBI workers in an FBI satellite control room at a West Virginia mall used surveillance equipment to spy on teenage girls as they were trying on prome gowns (Associated Press, April 21, 2009).
- Data breaches and identity theft in 2010 involved more than 16 million personal records.