A fusion center is
|“||an effective and efficient mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by analyzing data from a variety of sources.||”|
|“||[a] [f]acility that brings together into one central location law enforcement, intelligence, emergency management, public health and other agencies, as well as private-sector and nongovernmental organizations when appropriate and that has the capabilities to evaluate and act appropriately on all available information.||”|
|“||a collaborative effort of two or more federal, state, local, or tribal government agencies that combines resources, expertise, or information with the goal of maximizing the ability of such agencies to detect, prevent, investigate, apprehend, and respond to criminal or terrorist activity.||”|
Improving intelligence gathering and information sharing at all levels of government has been a major concern and priority since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. To promote greater information sharing and collaboration among federal, state, and local intelligence and law enforcement entities, state and local authorities established fusion centers throughout the country. These centers are "a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that provide resources, expertise, and information to the center with the goal of maximizing its ability to detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity." The term fusion refers to the process of managing the flow of information and intelligence across all levels and sectors of government and private industry, and through analysis, provides meaningful intelligence.
Among the primary focuses of fusion centers are the intelligence and fusion processes, through which information is collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed, and disseminated. Nontraditional collectors of intelligence, such as public safety entities and private sector organizations, possess important information (e.g., risk assessments and suspicious activity reports) that can be “fused” with law enforcement data to provide meaningful information and intelligence about threats and criminal activity. It is recommended that the fusion of public safety and private sector information with law enforcement data be virtual through networking and utilizing a search function.
Examples of the types of information incorporated into these processes are threat assessments and information related to public safety, law enforcement, public health, social services, and public works. Federal data that contains personally identifiable information should not be combined with this data until a threat, criminal predicate, or public safety need has been identified. These processes support efforts to anticipate, identify, prevent, monitor, and respond to criminal activity. Federal law enforcement agencies that are participating in fusion centers should ensure that they comply with all applicable privacy laws when contemplating the wholesale sharing of information with nontraditional law enforcement entities.
Fusion centers are joint multi-jurisdictional information centers that combine data from various sources and disciplines. They provide for information sharing at the federal level (horizontally, between federal agencies such as the CIA, FBI and U.S. Department of Justice) and at the state and local level (vertically). A fusion center may also be affiliated with an Emergency Operations Center that responds in the event of a disaster.
First amendment activities
Fusion centers can play a valuable role in supporting law enforcement's involvement in First Amendment-protected events. As part of the Pre-Event Stage, fusion centers can support state, local, tribal, and territorial agencies as they undergo a Pre-Event Assessment. This support may include the completion of an applicable assessment and the utilization of publicly available material (such as social media tools and resources) that pertains to potential threats to the event and/or organizations participating in the event, including potential counterdemonstration groups. If the Pre-Event Assessment does not identify any risk or threat, then the fusion center should not distribute the assessment beyond those customers who are serving a public safety role for the event. Fusion centers may also support the Operational Stage by assisting in information-/intelligence-related inquiries officers may have in response to an event.
If a criminal predicate or reasonable suspicion is identified or the findings of the Pre-Event Assessment provide specific, actionable intelligence, fusion centers may support agency leadership and law enforcement officers by identifying the collection requirements4 applicable to the event, based on the mission and role of the fusion center. In those limited circumstances, fusion centers should also be involved in any post-event activities, including the information evaluation, dissemination, and retention efforts. Fusion centers should not be involved in post-event evaluation, dissemination, and retention efforts of events that involve only routine public safety issues, such as conflicts between demonstrators or crowd-control problems.
Fusion centers were started as a joint project by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs. The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 ("9/11 Commission Act") required the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with others, to establish a state, local, and regional fusion center initiative within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish partnerships with fusion centers.
Through the initiative, DHS is required to provide to fusion centers operational and intelligence advice and assistance, as well as management assistance, and facilitate close communication and coordination between fusion centers and DHS. In addition, the initiative is to provide training to fusion centers and encourage the centers to participate in terrorism-threat-related exercises conducted by DHS.
Accordingly, the federal government has recognized that fusion centers represent a critical source of local information about potential threats for federal agencies and a mechanism for these agencies to disseminate terrorism-related information and intelligence. DHS, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Program Manager for the ISE (PM-ISE) have taken steps to partner with and leverage fusion centers as part of the overall ISE.
Further, the National Strategy for Information Sharing (National Strategy) states that fusion centers will serve as the primary focal points within states and localities for the receipt and sharing of terrorism-related information. Through the National Strategy, the federal government is promoting fusion centers to achieve a baseline level of capability and to ensure compliance with all applicable privacy laws and standards to become interconnected with the federal government and each other in a national network capable of sharing terrorism-related information.
The fusion centers gather information not only from government sources, but also from "private sector partners." These fusion centers now play a prominent role in collecting, analyzing, and sharing terrorism information. These centers are not homogenous — considerable variations exist in terms of operations and mission focus (e.g., homeland security, law enforcement, emergency response). Significant effort has gone into developing and adopting standards to facilitate easier information access, sharing, and use.
As of August 2010, there were 72 fusion centers nationwide. The centers’ goals are to blend law enforcement and intelligence information, and coordinate security measures to reduce threats in local communities. Fusion centers vary in size, scope, jurisdiction, capability, and maturity. The missions of these centers also vary. For example, some fusion centers are focused specifically on terrorism-related threats, others deal with information sharing related to all crimes, while other centers focus on addressing all hazards.
All 50 states have designated a primary fusion center to serve as the focal point for information sharing. In general, these fusion centers are statewide in jurisdiction and are operated by state entities, such as the state police or bureau of investigation. In addition, 22 major urban areas have established their own fusion centers, which are regional centers that usually cover large cities with substantial populations and numerous critical infrastructure sites and may be operated by city or county law enforcement or emergency management agencies.
Because of privacy concerns that attach to personally identifiable information, fusion centers do not combine federal databases containing personally identifiable information with state, local, and tribal databases into one system or warehouse. Rather, when a threat, criminal predicate, or public safety need is identified, fusion centers allow information from all sources to be readily gathered, analyzed, and exchanged, based upon the predicate, by providing access to a variety of disparate databases that are maintained and controlled by appropriate local, state, tribal, and federal representatives at the fusion center. The product of this exchange is stored by the entity taking action in accordance with any applicable fusion center and/or department policy, including state and federal privacy laws and requirements.
As provided under the 9/11 Commission Act, DHS is required to issue standards that fusion centers are to develop, publish, and adhere to a privacy and civil liberties policy consistent with federal, state, and local law. In addition, the standards must provide that a fusion center give appropriate privacy and civil liberties training to all state, local, tribal, and private sector representatives at the center and have appropriate security measures in place for the facility, data, and personnel.
Because fusion centers are within the ISE when they access certain kinds of information, federal law requires they adhere to ISE privacy standards issued by the President or the PM-ISE under the authority of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, as amended. Other federal requirements found in 28 C.F.R. part 23, Criminal Intelligence Systems Operating Policies, apply to federally funded criminal intelligence systems, and fusion centers receiving criminal intelligence information must follow these procedures, which also include privacy requirements.
In 2006, the PM-ISE issued the ISE Privacy Guidelines, which establish a framework for sharing information in the ISE in a manner that protects privacy and other legal rights. The ISE Privacy Guidelines apply to federal departments and agencies and, therefore, do not directly impose obligations on state and local government entities. However, the ISE Privacy Guidelines do require federal agencies and the PM-ISE to work with non-federal entities, such as fusion centers, seeking to access protected information to ensure that the entities develop and implement appropriate policies and procedures that are at least as comprehensive as those contained in the ISE Privacy Guidelines. Among the primary components of these guidelines, agencies are required to, for example, ensure that protected information is used only for authorized, specific purposes; properly identify any privacy-protected information to be shared; put in place security, accountability, and audit mechanisms; facilitate the prevention and correction of any errors in protected information; and document privacy and civil liberties protections in a privacy and civil liberties policy.
Operating fusion centers
Information on currently operating fusion and intelligence centers can be accessed via the National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center. As of October 2011:
|“||All 50 states have designated a primary fusion center to serve as the focal point for information sharing. According to the Office of the Program Manager for the ISE, 1 of the 50 states has not yet established the capabilities to be recognized by the federal government. In general, these fusion centers are statewide in jurisdiction and are operated by state entities, such as the state police or bureau of investigation. In addition, 22 major urban areas have established their own fusion centers, which are regional centers that usually cover large cities with substantial populations and numerous critical infrastructure sites and may be operated by city or county law enforcement or emergency management agencies.||”|
- National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan.
- FEMA Glossary (full-text).
- GAO, High-Risk Series: Update 178 n.10 (GAO-13-283) (Feb. 2013).
- Department of Homeland Security & Department of Justice, Fusion Center Guidelines (Aug. 2006).
- Pub. L. No. 110-53, §511, 121 Stat. 266, 317-24.
- Joseph Straw, "Smashing Intelligence Stovepipes," Security Management (Mar. 2008).
- Information Sharing: Progress Made and Challenges Remaining in Sharing Terrorism-Related Information, at 2 n.6.
- "First amendment activities" section: Recommendations for First Amendment-Protected Events for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, at 2-3.
- Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress
- Fusion Center Guidelines
- Fusion Center Guidelines: Developing and Sharing Information and Intelligence in a New Era
- Fusion Center Privacy, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) Training Program
- Fusion process
- Information Sharing: Federal Agencies Are Helping Fusion Centers Build and Sustain Capabilities and Protect Privacy, but Could Better Measure Results
- Council on Foreign Relations: Fusion Centers
- U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Fusion Center Guidelines
- ACLU, Fusion Center Update (July 2008).
- Electronic Privacy Information Center, Information Fusion Centers and Privacy Information related to Fusion Centers and privacy (June 2008).
- William A. Forsyth, Thesis on Fusion Centers