Chicago has a new Crime Prevention Information Center, which began operations without fanfare months ago, launched on $1 million in federal and state grants. CPIC is one of 58 "fusion centers" opening across the country in just the last two years. More than just a conduit for national threat warnings, Chicago's center is an example of a new trend: Rather than focus exclusively on terrorism threats, it is also using its staff and resources to work on local crime prevention. That dual mission places Chicago's center in the middle of a nationwide debate about how the federally funded fusion centers should operate. In congressional hearings this summer, some questioned whether local crime prevention detracted from the centers' original intent to prevent terrorism. Some civil liberties groups have also been critical, questioning what they say is a lack of federal oversight to safeguard privacy rights.
The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad. Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the ability to share data across systems is problematic. "You're giving the federal government access to an extraordinary amount of information linked to biometric identifiers that is becoming increasingly inaccurate," he said.
Congress on Tuesday struck back at the Bush administration's trend toward secrecy since the 2001 terrorist attacks, passing legislation to toughen the Freedom of Information Act and increasing penalties on agencies that don't comply. The White House would not say whether President Bush will sign the legislation, which unanimously passed the House by voice vote Tuesday a few days after it sailed through the Senate. Without Bush's signature, the bill would become law during the congressional recess that begins next week.
A government agency trying to withhold information from the public on privacy grounds has the burden of proving release of the records would create an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," New York state's highest court ruled Tuesday. The Court of Appeals decision came in the case of Data Tree LLC, a commercial online provider of public land records that sought a huge volume of data from the Suffolk County Clerk through a Freedom of Information Law request in 2004.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Center for Digital Democracy are asking the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to recuse herself from the agency's review of Google's proposed acquisition of online ad firm DoubleClick because her husband's law firm is advising DoubleClick on antitrust. In addition, FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras used to work at the law firm, called Jones Day, according to a complaint about the matter sent to the FTC on Wednesday by the privacy groups. Majoras' husband, John M. Majoras, is an equity partner with Jones Day and is in charge of the firm's business development in the Washington, D.C., office. "A reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question the chairman's impartiality in this matter" as a result of these facts, the complaint says.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized Wednesday for the popular social networking site's controversial new marketing program, telling users they can turn it off if they feel that it threatens their privacy. Overstock.com, one of Facebook's partners, had backed out of the program after receiving customer complaints. It said it plans to monitor the response to Wednesday's about-face before deciding if it will return. Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, said the group, along with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, still plans to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. "We need to have real privacy policies governing these powerful social networks," he said.
Foreigners coming to the USA will soon be required to have 10 fingerprints scanned as part of a new government anti-terrorist effort, the Homeland Security Department says. The plan for Customs and Border Protection officers to collect more biometric information from foreigners is one phase of a long-awaited upgrade to a border-security program put in place after 9/11. The security program, known as US-VISIT, aims to give government agents a better idea of who is coming into the country and catch people with forged passports. Privacy groups question whether the Homeland Security Department, which the Government Accountability Office has criticized for poor handling of personal information, can properly secure a huge fingerprint database.