Hundreds of police, firefighters, paramedics, and even utility workers have been trained and recently dispatched as “Terrorism Liaison Officers” in Colorado and a handful of other states to hunt for “suspicious activity” – and are reporting their findings into secret government databases, reports the Denver Post. It’s a tactic intended to feed better data into terrorism early-warning systems and uncover intelligence that could help fight anti-U.S. forces. The vague nature of the TLOs’ mission, and their focus on reporting both legal and illegal activity, has generated objections from privacy advocates and civil libertarians.
“Suspicious activity” is broadly defined, including taking photos of no apparent aesthetic value, making measurements or notes, espousing extremist beliefs, or conversing in code, according to a draft Department of Justice/Major Cities Chiefs Association document. Civil libertarians warn of threats to privacy. “The problem is, you’re drafting individuals whose job isn’t law enforcement to spy on ordinary Americans and report their activities to the government,” said John Verdi of the open-government project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.