By Matt Simpson, ACLU of Texas Policy Strategist
The much-debated and controversial Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC) took an important step forward in recent days.
The Austin City Council approved the ARIC Interlocal Agreement, which binds the 10 partner agencies participating in the ARIC to common goals, states a commitment to resource and information sharing, and articulates the kinds of information that will be collected.
In testimony, concerns about the scope of information to be collected were repeatedly articulated by privacy and civil liberties advocates and Austin residents.
The Council will be held responsible for violations of the privacy and civil liberties of Austin residents. By incorporating clear direction as to the kinds of information the ARIC will collect, council member Morrison and City Council have taken an important step in focusing the center on criminal matters. Focusing on known and suspected criminals not only discourages fishing operations that often result in privacy and civil liberties violations, but also focuses resources on tangible threats to public safety.
The ARIC will become operational in the next several months and aspects of the center policy remain troubling. For example, despite Council efforts to improve the mission of the ARIC, the center will still collect Suspicious Activities Reports. This program collects complaints from area residents about other residents and shares these reports in a federal database. As the ARIC becomes operational, the City of Austin, residents of the Austin area, and their elected officials will have to continue to be vigilant to ensure the ARIC is living up to our expectations.