State intelligence centers have access to personal information about millions of Americans, including secret files, The Washington Post has reported.
The information, from public and private sources, includes unlisted cell phone numbers and records, credit reports, insurance claims, driving records, driver's license photos, top-secret CIA databases, and secret FBI repositories and resources, according to the report.
Some of the centers also use facial-recognition software. Others use software that identifies patterns of behavior and links between people, according to the newspaper.
Since states founded the centers and run them independently, they do not share uniform access to the same information, the Post reported. For example, some work with the Pentagon, while others work with the U.S. Northern Command. Some gather information through Lexis-Nexis, while others turn to credit-reporting agencies, and some use a combination of those resources.
And, since they deal with security and crime, they operate away from the scrutiny of lawmakers. That has several groups questioning whether they threaten privacy. Those groups are calling for disclosure, oversight, and control.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a lawsuit in Virginia less than two weeks ago in an attempt to force the Virginia State Police to disclose how federal agencies have intervened to curb the state's open government and privacy laws for the so-called "fusion centers."
A Virginia legislator recently proposed a bill that would limit access to records revealing information about activities at the fusion center. The lawmaker said he proposed the legislation after State Police said federal agencies wouldn't share information unless the state could promise information relating to "criminal intelligence" would be shielded from public disclosure. The bill, which recently passed the Virginia House of Representatives, would protect employees from subpoenas in civil suits.
The Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government oppose the bill.