Privacy SOS

What happens to the “tips and leads” about terrorism that come to the attention of law enforcement from a variety of sources including anonymous ones – from the public, private sector, police officers and other government agencies? How is the National Information Sharing Environment supposed to separate the wheat from the enormous amount of chaff that is added on a daily basis to the haystack of suspicious activity?

A “Tips and Leads Issue Paper” produced by the Global Justice Sharing Initiative which advises the US Department of Justice grappled with this question in 2007. It defines “tips and leads” as “mere suspicion information” which has not been validated for truthfulness, accuracy or the reliability of the source. Checking out tips and leads is the role of law enforcement, an activity that can be extraordinarily time-consuming and generally leads nowhere. 

In its raw, uncorroborated state, tips and leads information is not supposed to be “regularly disseminated in bulletins and other like products. However, it may be included in secure information databases and disseminated to relevant law enforcement, homeland security, and public safety agencies that have the need to know and right to know the information in the performance of a law enforcement activity.”

In other words, mere rumors can be deposited, shared, and stored. And as law enforcement agents check out initial leads and conduct investigations, that information can also be widely disseminated. After tips and leads data “is refined” and “analysis is performed at every level,” information which is seen to be “relevant” and which rises to the level of reasonable suspicion is deposited in one of the nation’s 72 fusion centers where it enters the Information Sharing Environment. 

Information which is not seen to be “valid” is supposed to be purged from the system “within two years of entry” – by which time it may have been so widely shared that tracking and eliminating the data might be all but impossible.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.