Federal officials are closer to establishing what amounts to a nationwide database of so-called “suspicious activity reports” that describe possible evidence of terrorist attack planning. Reports will be submitted not just by state and local police and agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, but also private corporations that control economic and infrastructure assets considered high-profile targets for terrorists.
A required public notice surfaced one day before the nine-year anniversary of Sept. 11 confirming that DHS would be finished implementing its own internal database of suspicious activity reports by mid-October. Contents will flow in from DHS personnel at the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration and other agencies housed in the department.
The larger system or “portal” would include access to these DHS reports but be overseen by the Justice Department. It’s designed to allow searches for reports of suspicious activity across multiple repositories and for making the data available to authorities at every level, one of innumerable attempts after the 2001 hijackings to promote stronger information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence experts. Several more states announced their involvement in the program Sept. 1.
They call it “connecting the dots,” and the idea is to avoid overlooking otherwise disparate pieces of information that together form a clearer portrait of terrorists conspiring to carry out an attack. Today’s effort at a more collaborative atmosphere includes security at privately owned companies, which have fostered deeper ties to the government as part of the war on terror.
The definition of “suspicious activity,” however, remains under fire from civil liberties advocates who worry that the legal basis is shaky for tracking behavior that merely happens to resemble what a terrorist might do prior to an assault. ..