Collection of "Terrorism Tips" Raises Privacy Concerns

Counterterrorism tips spiked immediately following the death of Osama bin Laden, according to a recent article in by Marisa Taylor. And while in the distant past these tips would have been filed away if no crime had been committed, since 9-11, the tips usually get entered
into national databases used by counterterrorism experts. Some are worried that police are collecting personal information about innocent Americans.

“It’s been a huge boon to the national counterterrorism effort,” said Clark Ervin, the first inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, of the tip gathering, according to The Miami Herald report. “Our officials can’t handle the huge volume of information that comes in, so they’ve got to depend on the public to be their eyes and ears.”

Now heading up a homeland security program at the Aspen Institute, Ervine did admit that “one person’s version of what is suspicious is another person’s normal behavior” and “It can obviously be misused.”

About a third of the tips in databases, on average, only include an individual’s name, because officials say they are more interested in finding trends.

However, according to Michael German, a former FBI agent who advises the American Civil Liberties Union, the program sometimes leads to innocent people being questioned and even arrested based on perfectly legal behaviors. But authorities claim that the databases don’t threaten personal privacy and actually thwart terrorist attacks.

“When a college student in Texas was arrested in February for conspiring to blow up dams, nuclear plants, and the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush, a chemical company was credited for helping to uncover the plot,” the Herald article said. “Once the tip is entered into the database, depending on the state, it can stay there for as much as five years before it’s determined whether it should be purged.”

For more information about the tip databases and how they impact personal privacy, read the full article: