Police Creating "Terror Tip Sheets" for National Database
Here and in nearly a dozen other cities, including Boston, Chicago and Miami, officers are filling out terror tip sheets if they run across activities in their routines that seem out of place, like someone buying police or firefighter uniforms, taking pictures of a power plant or espousing extremist views.
Ultimately, state and federal officials intend to have a nationwide reporting system in place by 2014, using a standardized system of codes for suspicious behaviors. It is the most ambitious effort since the Sept. 11 attacks to put in place a network of databases to comb for clues that might foretell acts of terrorism.
"Operation Pipeline" is the drug interdiction profiling program used on highways to search cars stopped for traffic violations when certain indicators are present. Some of the indicators (pdf)are laughable, others are completely inconsistent. In the first category: fast food wrappers in the car. In the latter: there was no visible luggage or there was too much visible luggage.
The LAPD takes the insanity one step further in an attempt to identify would-be terrorists via suspicious activity reports, called SARS. Here's the final draft of one such program (pdf). The part about SARS is here. A few of the casualties of the program, which to date, have uncovered zero terrorist plots:
In September 2007, a 24-year-old Muslim-American journalism student at Syracuse University was stopped by a Veterans Affairs police officer in New York for taking photographs of flags in front of a V.A. building as part of a class assignment. The student was taken into an office for questioning, and the images were deleted from her camera before she was released.
Also that year, a 54-year-old artist and fine arts professor at the University of Washington was stopped by Washington State police for taking photographs of electrical power lines as part of an art project. The professor was searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car for almost half an hour before being released.
So what other behaviors are on the list? According to this 2008 ACLU advisement,
LAPD Special Order #11, dated March 5, 2008, states that it is the policy of the LAPD to “gather, record, and analyze information of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism,” and includes a list of 65 behaviors LAPD officers “shall” report. The list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective, and First Amendment protected activities as:
- taking measurements
- using binoculars
- taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value”
- abandoning vehicle
- drawing diagrams
- taking notes
- espousing extremist views
Photos with no esthetic value? According to whom? Taking notes? This borders on the absurd.
The behaviors identified by the LAPD are so commonplace and ordinary that the monitoring or reporting of them is scarcely any less absurd. This overbroad reporting authority gives law enforcement officers justification to harass practically anyone they choose, to collect personal information, and to pass such information along to the intelligence community.
Suspicious activity report (SAR) policing opens the door to racial profiling and other improper police behavior, and exposes law-abiding people to government prying into their private affairs without just cause.
The ACLU says the program may just be illegal:
Moreover, the LAPD’s collection of “non-criminal” information runs afoul of Title 28, Part 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states that law enforcement agencies:
shall collect and maintain criminal intelligence information concerning an individual only if there
is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.
|< Judge Bybee Breaks Silence, Defends Torture Memos | What's At Stake On State Secrets >|