ARIC Gains Accountability, But More Yet To Be Done

June 1st, 2010 1 Comment   Posted in Fusion Centers

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.

Council member Laura Morrison proposed incorporating key sections from the current draft of the Privacy Policy into the Interlocal Agreement. This amendment clarified the kinds of information to be collected.

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.

Before the ARIC becomes operational, participating agencies will finalize the Privacy Policy and develop auditing protocols to ensure the center is operating in compliance with law and ARIC policies. The ACLU of Texas will continue to give input to APD, City Council and the ARIC on ways to improve policies. Despite the efforts of City Council, serious issues remain. Before the ARIC becomes operational, participating agencies will finalize the Privacy Policy and develop auditing protocols to ensure the center is operating in compliance with law and ARIC policies. The ACLU of Texas will continue to give input to APD, City Council and the ARIC on ways to improve policies. City leaders and ARIC executive staff are now tasked with finishing the work started by council to assure the ARIC does not violate the privacy and civil liberties of residents of the Austin area.

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.


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