CRCL Impact Assessments: A Tool for Fusion Centers

A Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) Impact Assessment should be periodically conducted by each fusion center. This assessment will evaluate how the operations, programs, and procedures of the fusion center affect particular individuals or societal groups. In doing so, this assessment will ensure that fusion center activities fully protect both civil rights and civil liberties. Generally, the term civil rights involves positive (or affirmative) government action to protect against infringement, while the term civil liberties involves restrictions on improper government action and arbitrary governmental interference.

Terminology Check:

Civil Rights (15pp | 217kb | PDF) refers to fundamental individual rights such as freedom of speech, press, or religion; due process of law; and other limitations on the power of the government to restrain or dictate the actions of individuals. They are the freedoms that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Civil Liberties (15pp | 217kb | PDF) refers to those rights and privileges of citizenship and equal protection that the state is constitutionally bound to guarantee all citizens regardless of race, religion, sex, or other characteristics unrelated to the worth of the individual. Protection of civil rights imposes an affirmative obligation upon government to promote equal protection under the law.

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Impact Assessment: A CRCL Impact Assessment evaluates how programs, policies, regulations, and guidelines comply with civil rights and civil liberties and whether efforts to mitigate risks to civil rights and/or civil liberties are warranted.

Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA): A PIA focuses on evaluating the processes through which PII is collected, stored, protected, shared, and managed by an electronic information system or online collection application.

When conducting either a CRCL Impact Assessment or a PIA it is highly recommended you obtain counsel from your legal advisor.

How a CRCL Impact Assessment can ensure lawful information sharing

Conducting a CRCL Impact Assessment within a fusion center is particularly important due to information sharing issues because the manner in which information is accessed, used, and shared between DHS and State, local, and tribal officials has civil liberties implications.

For example, in some cases, fusion center analysts may exchange data with Federal agencies that contains personally identifiable information for the purposes of assessing emerging threats or incidents.

In some cases, the information may reference race, ethnicity, national origin, or associations, and this information must be handled in accordance with applicable law. A CRCL Impact Assessment will ensure that your fusion center fully considers:

  1. Information sharing is conducted in a lawful manner consistent with Constitutional, statutory, regulatory, and other legal and policy requirements, including applicable privacy and civil liberties standards.
  2. The roles and responsibilities of the Federal government actors versus the actors of State, local, tribal, and territorial governments are clearly articulated. This delineation of roles is necessary in order to maintain an appropriate balance of power between the Federal and State governments.
  3. The fusion center has a clearly defined process for redress, which should include information on how to file a complaint with the State's Attorney General Office. It is essential that individuals who believe their civil liberties have been violated by a fusion center initiative have the opportunity to raise their concerns.
  4. Proper procedural safeguards are in place, including a training program that provides fusion center employees with a keen awareness of civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy issues.

By conducting a CRCL Impact Assessment, a fusion center will be able to evaluate its information sharing process and ensure that it does not infringe on any civil rights or civil liberties. This process will not only protect the fusion center and its mission, but also the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of all Americans.

Source: The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the DHS Privacy Office.
Last date page updated: 08/13/13 (CRCL)

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