Monday, 22 May 2006

"National Strategy To Combat Terrorist Travel"

For several years I and other travel privacy watchdogs been arguing that the goal of the USA government and its allies has become the creation — in part, through the compelled conversion of existing travel information technology and operational infrastructure — of a comprehensive system of surveillance of personal movement, a travel panopticon .

Now that travel surveillance agenda has been made overt, with the release earlier this month by the USA National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) of a censored unclassified version of its National Strategy To Combat Terrorist Travel . “This is the first unclassified Strategy published by NCTC.”

Despite lip service paid on the cover page to “privacy and civil liberties protections of US persons” (the privacy and civil liberties of non-US persons are never even mentioned — the foreigner is by definition the enemy and without rights, apparently), the strategy paper is remarkable in the degree to which it takes for granted the subversiveness of travel and the entitlement of the government to complete control of who can travel, when, and where. There’s not the slightest pretense of acknowledgement or analysis of limits on government authority for such a strategy, or of any of the numerous critiques of this “total travel surveillance” strategy from the Government Accountability Office auditors (see the latest GAO testimony to Congress this month on privacy risks including RFID’s “potential use to track tmovement of individuals traveling within the United States”), the Department of Homeland Security’s own Secure Flight Working Group , or the DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee that just released an appropriately scathing critique of The Use of RFID for Human Identification (scheduled to be discussed at a committee meeting in San Francisco on 7 June 2006.)

Nor is there any mention anywhere in the 60-page paper of what constitutes “terrorist travel”, or how it is to be distinguished from non-terrorist travel. The clear implication is that all travel — explicitly including “travel within the United States” as well as international travel — is presumed to be inherently suspicious.

Similarly, and frighteningly for those like me who work to facilitate travel, the facilitation of travel is implicitly equated with the facilitation of terrorism, with repeated references to the need to “suppress … the illicit travel industry”, “dismantle infrastructures and networks that facilitate terrorist travel”, “designate as supporters of terrorism those who facilitate terrorist travel”, and “monitor… and defeat… terrorist travel facilitator networks” — which would, so far as I can tell, be the same as the industry, infrastructures, networks, and people who facilitate non-terrorist travel.

The strategy paper takes for granted the government’s right to require government-issued credentials for all travel, and to determine who is, and is not, allowed to travel, when, where, and by what means.

The strategy paper refers repeatedly to “UN member states’ efforts to implement the obligations imposed by Security Council Resolution 1373 to prevent terrorist travel.” In fact, there is no mention in this resolution of a concept of “terrorist travel”, only of “travel documents”. But it appears from the references in the National Strategy To Combat Terrorist Travel that the USA is probably using this misrepresentation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 as the basis for a bogus argument that all UN member states are required to collaborate with all USA travel surveillance and control schemes, even those unrelated to the narrower issues of forged travel documents mentioned in the resolution..

Among “critical” international initiatives the strategy paper includes “work through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to press for stronger international standards on the composition and security features in travel documents.” Since the USA already claims (albeit falsely) that ICAO standards require RFID chips in passports, it’s hard to know what more extreme measures they have in mind. But this overt agenda of laundering yet more surveillance mandates through ICAO makes it critically important that national privacy and data protection authorities (of the sort the USA doesn’t have) in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere demand to be included in their governments’ delegations to ICAO working groups and decision-making meetings.

There’s nothing earth-shaking in the details of the strategy, although it does make clear that the “re-baselining” of the Secure Flight airline passenger surveillance does not entail reconsideration of whether to deploy it — despite it’s many legal and practical problems — but only of how it will be implemented. And it updates the schedule of RFID passport issuance in the USA with the news that, “The United States will begin issuing e-passports [i.e. passports with RFID chips] in the spring of 2006 and will be issuing only e-passports after October 26, 2006.”

Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 22 May 2006, 19:50 ( 7:50 PM)
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