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US Government Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit Against ‘Suspicious Activity’ Program Which Keeps Files on Innocent People

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The United States government has moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of five US citizens who say they were victims of a domestic surveillance program, which involves the collection of “suspicious activity reports” on individuals.

According to the ACLU’s filed complaint [PDF], a National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) “encourages state and local law enforcement agencies as well as private actors to collect and report information that has a potential nexus to terrorism in the form of so-called ‘suspicious activity reports [SARs].’”

The ACLU argues any individual who is flagged as having a “potential nexus to terrorism” will automatically be subject to “law enforcement scrutiny, which may include intrusive questioning by local or federal law enforcement agents.” Plus, “Even when the Federal Bureau of Investigation concludes that the person did not have any nexus to terrorism, a SAR can haunt that individual for decades, as SARs remain in federal databases for up to 30 years.”

The lawsuit suggests that standards, which govern collection of reports for this domestic surveillance program, conflict with the Justice Department’s own standards. The Justice Department “prohibits the collection, maintenance and dissemination of criminal intelligence information unless there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” But reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is not required for reports.

It is apparently acceptable for reports, which stem from constitutionally protected conducted, like photographing infrastructure, to be submitted and shared between agencies. A person who is believed to be “acting suspiciously,” whatever that means, could become the subject of a widely shared report as well.

But, in a motion to dismiss [PDF] filed by the government on October 16, the government disputes the notion that guidance used in the system is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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