As a result of a more alert, or perhaps more anxious American public, counterterrorism tips have spiked since the death of Osama bin Laden, McClatchy Newspapers report. Now, many of these clues are being entered into databases and pored over by counterterrorism experts. Depending on the state or city, the data may be retained for years. While law enforcement officials say the information helps them to connect the dots to prevent the next attack, the avid collection of data raises concerns that police are collecting personal information about Americans who aren’t criminals.
Clark Ervin, the first inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security now at the Aspen Institute, acknowledged that “one person’s version of what is suspicious is another person’s normal behavior.” Most law enforcement officials don’t see any reason for controversy. “It’s what cops have been doing for more than 100 years,” said Thomas O’Reilly, a former New Jersey state police official who now heads the Justice Department’s Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. “And I think it’s what the citizens expect. If they see something suspicious, they want the police to check it out.” Since the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement officials have identified about 16 potential terrorist behaviors, such as taking photos of “high-value” terrorist targets. The tips, known as “suspicious activity” reports, are vetted by counterterrorism experts who are trained to know the difference between “tourism and terrorism” behaviors, officials said.