By Soumyo Lahiri-Gupta
(Studying at American University Washington College of Law)
Remember back in July when Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales drew heavy criticism for cooperating with federal agents and allowing them to patrol the streets of Albuquerque in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests? HB-70 would formalize that cooperation statewide.
House Bill 70, titled “Domestic Terrorism Definitions”, appears to be a reactionary Bill written in the aftermath of the Capitol Riots in the beginning of January.
The Bill amends three existing statutes:
- Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department Act;
- Antiterrorism Act; and
- Computer Crimes Act.
In doing so, the Bill establishes the New Mexico all source intelligence center, a cross-jurisdictional partnership among local, state, and federal agencies to “support the development of plans, policies and procedures that protect the state from border, criminal and terrorist threats. Currently, the three existing acts do not share information with federal agencies, only state and local agencies.
There are two major consequences of creating this “intelligence center”:
- It creates a broad database of individuals suspected of gang, criminal, or terrorist activity, based upon as little evidence as an anonymously submitted tip, that is not subject to the freedom of information act; and
- It allows any local, state, or federal agency to access this database, act upon the information however they see fit and coordinate with other local, state, and federal agencies.
These two consequences should be concerning to every single New Mexican.
While the Bill does have a relatively specific definition of an act of terror (an act that causes great bodily harm or death), it broadly outlines the intent of an act of terror. Even more alarming is that the Bill does not define a “terroristic threat” despite using the term seven times throughout. The Bill even goes on to classify “terroristic threat” as a third-degree felony. Because the term is not defined, what constitutes a ‘terrorist threat’ is open to wide interpretation by the public, law enforcement agencies, and the courts.
Furthermore, the Bill allows online content to be collected by the New Mexico all source intelligence center if it relates to “cyberterrorism […], terrorism and terroristic acts, threats and activities.”
If I post a Facebook status arguing that the USA desperately needs a public option for healthcare to prevent further COVID-19 related deaths, it is likely that many will interpret my words as simply a healthcare opinion. However, if an individual reads that status as a threat, he/she could report it to the New Mexico all source intelligence center, leading me to be investigated by local, state, and federal agencies. The Bill states that intent for terroristic threats or activity can be as nominal as wanting to influence the policy of a state. Most people would classify that low threshold as simply having a political opinion.
This is the exact same approach to terrorism that the federal government used in July to send federal officers into cities during the Black Lives Matter protests, otherwise known as Operation Legend. The Black Lives Matter movement was interpreted as terroristic activity.
HB-70 plays an incredibly dangerous game with American liberties. While the idea of preventing domestic terrorism seems sexy, it is important to remember that the definition of terrorism is constantly changing based on who is in power. Today we see Nazis and white supremacists as domestic terrorists, but under a different administration, groups like Black Lives Matter, the Green Movement, and the push for Medicare for All could be labelled as domestic terrorists.
These new domestic terrorism Bills give an all-access pass to agencies at all levels to invade our privacy, develop problematic databases, and create precisely the same scenario that we saw this past summer with Operation Legend.
We cannot let this become the law of New Mexico.
I publicly plead with our lawmakers to not let this Bill pass; if it does, all New Mexicans will face the consequences.