Big Brother is alive and well, and watching us

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To the Editor;

Day and night, as Virginians go about their business, streams of information about some of them are being gathered and analyzed in the basement of Virginia State Police headquarters in Richmond.

The VSP operates a Fusion Intelligence Center, like similar centers housed in other states, that constantly shares information culled from local, state, federal and international sources.

It is staffed by state, local and federal employees.

The concept is not new.

Soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, retired Admiral John Poindexter touted the concept of Total Information Awareness — that we should mine data about our citizens from every possible source in order to pre-empt terrorist activity.

His more extreme proposals were met with revulsion by a large segment of the public because they came too close to the sort of totalitarian nightmare we were taught to fear as children.

Secret surveillance of the citizenry happened in old-style Soviet-bloc countries, in Communist China, and Saddam’s Iraq, but not here.

Well, Poindexter’s vision lives on, as a bill introduced by Delegate Dwight Jones reveals. The legislation, ironically numbered House Bill 1007, massively strengthens the hand of the Fusion Intelligence Center, and raises disturbing questions.

Although the stated purpose of the legislation is to give federal agencies the assurance that secret information they share with the Virginia Fusion Intelligence Center will not be disclosed, the bill goes far beyond that.

First, the bill makes confidential all information housed at the Fusion Intelligence Center, including not only terrorism leads but “criminal intelligence information,” a term so gauzily defined in HB 1007 that it literally means anything the government wants it to mean. For decades, the State Police and other law-enforcement officials operated successfully under broad exclusions from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Now the law-enforcement community, having conflated the preemption of terrorists with the preemption of crime in general, wants to remove this vaguely defined cache of “criminal intelligence information,” held by the VSP from any application of FOIA.

Second, the bill makes employees of the Center immune from subpoena.

If you are charged by the State with a crime, and the charge is based on intelligence shoddily assembled by the Fusion Intelligence Center, your lawyer will never be able to cross-examine the people who collected and analyzed that information in a court of law.

Third, the bill encourages snitching of the worst kind. Anyone who wants to accuse a neighbor, or to curry favor with the government, is not discouraged from making false or malicious charges against you.

HB 1007 gives him immunity from your lawsuit for defamation, invasion of privacy or negligence.

To question HB 1007 will elicit the predictable red-faced, tub-thumping of politicians who have profitably, albeit cynically, mined the rich vein of “learning the lessons of 9-11.”

Before they run that game on us again, get a copy of HB 1007 and read it.

And say hello to Big Brother.

Ginger Stanley, executive director,

Virginia Press Association.