University of North Carolina

Dr. Torin Monahan gives a talk about Department of Homeland Security fusion centers in Garrison Hall Thursday afternoon. There are 72 fusion centers across the country that alert the DHS about possible terroristic threats. 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Torin Monahan, a communications associate professor from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said abuses of power by data surveillance agencies could compromise the effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security’s anti-terrorism operations in a talk Thursday hosted at the Graduate Student Symposium titled “Beyond Counterterrorism: Data Fusion in Post-9/11 Security Organizations.”

The Department of Homeland Security, along with a multitude of other governmental agencies, make up fusion centers — physical collaborations of police, national security and private sector experts — in an effort to aggregate their collected data and compile a full-bodied database of possible security threats. The department expedited the launch of these fusion centers on state, city and regional levels following the breaches in national defense during the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001.

“Our technological world tends to collect data by default, and these security organizations have adapted to the imperative of the surveillance society we live in today,” Monahan said. “Just about any data that are out there, they can basically bring together.”

Monahan’s previous research has focused on the way state surveillance promotes social inequalities but said his research on fusion centers has made him more sympathetic, as “information societies are [also] surveillance societies.” 

The centers are intended to serve as neutral, apolitical channels for multiple agencies to join forces and physically discuss their shared intel. But most of the 78 fusion centers across the country are housed in police departments — characterizing them less as passive conduits of information and more as groups in active pursuit of threats, according to Monahan.

The issue remains that fusion centers succumb to cultural biases, Monahan said, especially within the centers’ associated police departments.

Though federal law requires “reasonable suspicion” for the storage of information, the FBI has since changed its rule, allowing agents to make quick searches through these databases without recording the information found.

American studies graduate student Carrie Andersen said she feels the population has a general tendency to trust the government, but the lack of transparency makes that trust harder to justify.

“I think it’s a perpetual problem,” Andersen said. “How do you create accountability when the system is so secretive?”

The effectiveness of fusion centers is unmeasurable, but the concept of pooling governmental resources certainly champions efficiency. Simone Browne, assistant professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, said the potential use of the compiled data could still be beneficial as a concept.

“The idea of combining all this data could be very useful for other things — even Amber Alerts,” Browne said.

Real estate graduate students Brian Thomas, Jason Levine and Allen Logue finished competing in the 10th annual Real Estate Challenge on Thursday. The competition, hosted by the McCombs School of Business, featured sixteen teams from universities across the nation.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Real estate graduate students from 16 universities across the country competed for cash prizes and top honors at the McCombs School of Business’ 10th annual Real Estate Challenge this week.

This year’s challenge attracted some of the most distinguished real estate students from programs across the nation, including the winners from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and attracted leading corporate sponsors. Glenn Lowenstein, a partner at the Lionstone Group real estate firm, said his firm sponsors the competition because the partners really believe in the Real Estate Finance and Investment Center at UT and want to offer graduate students a real-life experience.

“I’m an investor nationally, and I think this real estate center has the potential to become the best in the U.S.,” Lowenstein said. “We especially support it so the best real estate students from around the nation can come and compete.”

Lowenstein said his firm plans to continue sponsoring the competition in the future. Students in the challenge competed in teams of six and had four days to analyze a case sponsored by investment firm J.P. Morgan, identify the issues of the case and develop a solution. The teams then presented their findings in 20-minute PowerPoint presentations to a panel of real estate executives who judged them on analytics, judgment and clarity of presentation, Lowenstein said.

This year’s challenge included teams from Duke University, New York University, University of California at Los Angeles and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.

Christina Griego, administrative associate in the Department of Finance, said every school has to be invited in order to participate in the conference. She said McCombs chose their team through a specific application process.

“The quality of the teams and the quality of the case is different from last year,” Griego said.
Business graduate student Brian Thomas competed for UT in the challenge and said it was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience and get exposure to industry leaders. Thomas said his team worked on it every hour they could and that deal structures, understanding of the other parties’ interest and understanding of the finance market were major components in the competition.

Although UNC-Chapel Hill took the grand prize, Thomas said all the teams brought different skill sets and perspectives to the case and that UNC deserved to win.

“I’m not disappointed,” Thomas said. “You can spend a lot of time reading a book, but the only way to really learn is to experience it.”