The City of Berkeley is facing decisions on how to adapt law enforcement’s response to the vast power of the interagency communications and data sharing systems and still avoid civil rights abuses. Because the federal government is increasingly co-opting police all over the country, the city council must give appropriate guidance to the police if Berkeley is to protect the privacy, civil rights, and safety of its citizens. Adjusting how the BPD handles its involvement with federal and state information sharing programs in the age of Facebook and fusions centers is scheduled for a city council vote at the May 15 meeting.
Government gathering data about private citizens becomes a threat when it spreads throughout government networks and, based on sketchy or false recording, prompts law enforcement to take inappropriate action. Innocent behavior gets twisted in the circuitry of state and federal data banks until a simple traffic stop has the patrol car’s computer offering up suspicions about you that are absurd.
Take a picture of city hall (really) and you might be reported through the federal Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) system as “scouting significant targets.” Get arrested during a protest and the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) will make your record available to almost all law enforcement agencies at all levels of government.
There is little quality control about what gets dumped into the government’s computers. Lies, hunches, trivia, rumors...almost anything can be added to your “file” and come back to haunt you later. Inaccurate data cannot be purged, and the secrecy of the data collection process renders it effectively immune from oversight.
A coalition of concerned citizens is working with the Berkeley city government to adopt guidelines for law enforcement which are more judicious and respectful of constitutional restraints. Adjusting relevant ordinances and policies to make sure that only vitally needed information about dangerous persons is reported to NCRIC and the SAR system will be on the City Council meeting agenda for May 15. The best place to filter out bad information from federal computers is to be more cautious about how these programs are used.