ST PAUL, Minn. (Jan. 17, 2023) – Bills introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate would require detailed reporting on activities conducted by the state’s fusion center. Enactment of the law would increase the transparency of surveillance activities in the state and could set the stage for future reforms.

Rep. Sandra Feist (D) and Rep. Steve Elkins (D) introduced House Bill 41 (HF41) on Jan. 4. A bipartisan coalition of three Democrats and two Republicans introduced a companion, Senate Bill 186 (SF186), on Jan. 11. The legislation would require the superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to prepare a detailed annual report on the activities of the Minnesota Fusion Center (MNFC).

As the Department of Homeland Security describes them, “Fusion Centers are state-owned and operated centers that serve as focal points in states and major urban areas for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information between State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (SLTT), federal and private sector partners.”

In practice, fusion centers serve as clearinghouses where state, local and federal law enforcement agencies gather and share massive amounts of private information gathered through various surveillance networks including automatic license plate readers, facial recognition technology, stingray devices, surveillance cameras and more.

Under the proposed law, the annual reports would include detailed information about the operation of the MNFC including the types of activities it monitors, the scale of information it collects, the local, state, and federal agencies with which it shares information, and the quantifiable benefits it produces.

Fusion centers operate under a veil of secrecy. The passage of HF41/SF186 would increase transparency and give Minnesotans a better understanding of how surveillance is being conducted and used in the state. As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. It could also set the stage to limit data sharing and rein in the ever-growing national surveillance state, as transparency often creates the momentum needed to drive future change.


It has become standard practice for law enforcement agencies to upload warrantless surveillance data gathered at the state level. As already noted, fusion centers serve as clearinghouses for all kinds of information shared between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The DHS helps fund and supports 79 fusion centers across the U.S. The DHS describes homeland security intelligence/information fusion as the ”…process of managing the flow of information to support the rapid identification of emerging terrorism-related threats requiring intervention by government and private-sector authorities.”

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within a broader federal system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

Fusion centers serve as a vital cog in the rapidly expanding national surveillance state. Limiting their operation and data sharing is crucial to reining in surveillance. Passage of HF41/SF186 would take a small first step in that direction.


HF41 was referred to the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. SF186 was referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. The bills will have to get hearings in their respective committees and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.

Mike Maharrey

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