Archive for December 5th, 2012

News Digest 12/05/12

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Fusion centers find a real purpose

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 7:36 am by

On October 29, Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline and immensely damaged the most densely crowded populations in the US. On that same day, fusion centers may finally have been put to good use.

Fusion centers are information collection and analysis agencies first launched  in 2003 by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice in order to share information between different federal and local agencies. In Trenton, NJ, the fusion center is called the Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC) and it is home to the New Jersey State Emergency Operations Center. Most days, the purpose of the ROIC is to help intelligence specialists and law enforcement agents analyze and monitor crime, homeland security threats, and other suspicious activity.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government affairs committee recently described these activities as “often producing irrelevant, useless, or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever.” However, New Jersey may have turned a bad thing into a useful resource. Many New Jersey residents did not have power, and therefore could not receive news from television networks, radio, or the internet.

State officials, including Governor Chris Christie, took advantage of the ROIC’s capabilities to help provide information to the public. What makes fusion centers potentially effective in emergency situations is that they “are in constant operation. The officials staffing them from different agencies are working with each other in the same room on a regular basis, gaining familiarity and skill with their informational tools.”

Although this particular fusion center (1 of over 70 around the country) was able to perform a public service in a time of crisis, that alone does not justify the role of fusion centers in  unchecked surveillance and information sharing. If fusion centers are able to help during emergencies, they should be re-tooled as emergency service centers, rather than centers for warrantless surveillance.