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DHS Program Violates Law December 9, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Surveillance.
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The Department of Homeland Security violated a congressional funding ban when it continued to develop a computerized program that creates risk assessments of travelers entering and leaving the United States, according to lawmakers and privacy advocates

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The Automated Targeting System is a collection of data mining procedures designed to identify terrorist risk factors in the the profiles of anyone entering or leaving the United State by air. Three years ago, Representative Martin Sabo ( D- Minn) wrote a prohibition on the testing and development of such programs into homeland security funding legislation. Unless DHS bought the programs off the shelf without testing or development, the ATS is in clear violation of the Sabo prohibitions. If the DHS did buy the programs and implement them , the department is in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Privacy advocates and others claim that the program is illegal under the 1974 Privacy Act because customs officials target U. S. travelers and share data with other agencies, absent any public notification. DHS claims that notification was “implicit” in another program.

The ATS was developed in the 90’s as a means of combating drug smuggling, and expanded after 9/11. Profiled travelers are not allowed to see their risk assessments, and must file Freedom of Information Acts to see the original documents that form the basis of the assessment.. The profiles can stay on the record for up to 40 years, and two years ago the program was expanded to include some land travelers.

The department announced an extended public comment period from Dec 4th to Dec 29th, and incoming chairs of the Senate and House homeland security committees, Sen Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn) and Rep Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) have called for administrative hearings or additional briefings.The Buisness Travel Coalition has also expressed strong objections to the program.

Michael Chertoff , among others, has expressed surprise to the intensity of the criticism. He should know better by now- the public will object when citizens are under surveillance, without prior cause, without notification, without access to the assessments of a perpetually watching government. The accumulation of such data is disaster that is both happening and waiting to happen, and will probably do absolutely no good at all in preventing terrorist attacks, since any reasonably prudent terrorist group would probably try to use virgin, or near virgin travelers, And this kind of mass profiling is bound to create a great deal of noise, since there are many more nonterrorists than terrorists, and like birthdays, many of the good citizens will share some subset of characteristics with terrorists. Of course, DHS got into this pickle by trying to be more explicit about what it is up to- the problem is , the department did not go far enough. Lawmakers and citizen groups feel that they have been deceived, but it need not have been so. We all want procedures that have a good chance of catching people intent on killing us, but we want our representatives to know what they are and to have remedies for data mining mistakes and overshoot. Not everyone has to know everything about DHS watching procedures, but our legislators should always have access to how what we know is collected and used, and we should, as citizens, have the right to meaningful objection to the surveillance and police powers of the state.

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