Is the “Countering Violent Extremism” Program a Violation of Civil Liberties?

Homeland Security,Editor’s Note: All this week Autism Daily Newscasat is looking at the valid concerns and challenges should someone on the autism spectrum come into contact with law enforcement and / or the legal system. As reported below, the new program Countering Violent Extremism may end up inadvertently “profiling” families with autistic members and other medical or mental issues.

Terrorism is horrible. Events such as 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Boston Marathon still bring chills, and there is a very real fear that similar attacks may happen in the future. The Department of Homeland Security is meant to protect us from these threats, but some of the strategies they’ve used have been met with suspicion. NSA related activities such as wiretapping phone conversations and reading citizen’s e-mails have met with protests, though the average American citizen is likely unaware of the full range of powers wielded by governmental agencies.

Now a new program, called CVE, or Countering Violent Extremism, is set to begin in Boston as a pilot version. Most of the details of the program are classified, but a document titled “Guide for Practitioners and Analysts” that was made public by the Intercept, reveals some disturbing information. Essentially, the guide teaches police officers, educators, health professionals, social service agents, and other professionals to “rate” an individual, family, and community based on a range of factors, including categories like “parent-child bonding” and “perceived economic stress.” These ratings would be submitted to the Department of Homeland Security, and would be used to identify possible targets for “intervention” in the name of preventing terrorist activity. You can read the full guide here http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1657824-cve-guide.html.

This is scary news for everyone, but individuals in certain groups are especially worried. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has reported that law enforcement has a history of using outreach programs as a means of gathering information on individuals in the Muslim community. Low-income families and members of other minority groups are also likely targets, as are those who have been diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issues.

Some would argue that reduced privacy is a small price to pay in order to make the world safer, but there is no empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of this approach. Similar programs have been used in Saudi Arabia and other countries that are not exactly known for respecting human rights.

The most frightening thing about this program is that families would have no idea they were being rated. Your doctor, or your child’s teacher, could be evaluating your family without your knowledge or consent. And for low-income or minority families who participate in social programs the risk is even higher. Policies like this could lead many to reject help they truly need out of fear of being rated and targeted for “intervention.” Parents may decide against seeking medical help for children who may have certain diagnoses, causing many to go without necessary treatments.

Of course, we all want to be safe, and we want to avoid further terrorist activities, but at what price? Is it worth not being able to trust your child’s teachers, doctors, or other professionals? Is it worth having innocent people targeted for “intervention,” due to an imperfect rating system implemented by individuals who are reading off a checklist?

For more information about the CVE program, click here http://cognoscenti.wbur.org/2015/02/18/countering-violent-extremism-carol-rose-and-shannon-erwin.