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SurveillanceDHS focus on suspicious activity at critical infrastructure facilities

Published 28 September 2012

Federal, state, and local law enforcement let people know that if theytake pictures or notes around monuments and critical infrastructure facilities, theycould be subject to an interrogation or an arrest; in addition to the See Something, Say Something awareness campaign, DHS also has broader initiatives such as the Buffer Zone Protection Program, which teach local police and security how to spot potential terrorist activities

As a community organizer for environmental causes, Juan Parras sometimes photographs refineries and petrochemical plants near the Houston ship channel, but his work is often interrupted by security officials and the police.

“It’s making it seem like you’re committing a crime by taking a picture. And when we get to the point where we can’t take pictures of facilities because they feel threatened, then I think we’re crossing the line,” Parras toldNPR.

Parras estimates that he has been stopped at least ten times while taking pictures. In some cases, they’ve actually wanted to delete the pictures we took.” Parras said. When that happened, Parras says he just told the officers he didn’t know how to do that.

The actions by police and private security is something that many people have experienced since the 9/11 attacks. NPR reports that the government is letting people know that if theytake pictures or notes around monuments and critical infrastructure facilities, theycould be subject to an interrogation or an arrest.

DHS has funded several videos as part of the See Something, Say Something awareness campaign, but DHS also has broader initiatives such as the Buffer Zone Protection Program, which teach local police and security how to spot potential terrorist activities.

Lance Rosenfield was on assignment for ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative reporting project which was writing stories on accidents and pollution releases at BP’s refinery complex in Texas City, Texas.

Rosenfield took some pictures of a “Welcome to Texas City” sign on a highway that borders the plant. As he was driving back to his office, he noticed a private security vehicle following him, so he pulled into a gas station, seconds later local police also pulled in.

Rosenfield showed officers the pictures and eventually the police felt he did nothing wrong, but they took his personal information and gave it to a BP security guard, which angered Rosenfield.

“And that’s when I said, look, what’s going on here? This isn’t something I’m approving of. And why are you sharing my information with a private company?” Rosenfield told NPR.

Federal regulators state the chemical industry is required promptly to report security incidents to the National Response Center (NRC), providing “as much information as possible.”

Texas City police would not comment on the incident, but BP said in an e-mail that the police were simply providing “BP with the information needed to make a report” to the NRC.

Lawmakers are now examining  some of these actions, as they are reviewing the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program (CFAT), which designs security plans at infrastructure plants in order to reduce the risk of a terrorist attack.

Mike German, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent, believes these programs do not work and that law enforcement should have reasonable suspicion before questioning citizens. “These programs sort of dumb down what is considered suspicious and suggest something like photography or note-taking are suspicious,” Mike German, now with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Washington, D.C., told NPR.

“Right now, the federal regulation requires that police have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before they put information into an intelligence-sharing system, and that’s really the standard that we think needs to be followed.”