Sunday, 3 December 2006

The Amazing Race 10, Episode 11 ("Automated Targeting System")

Ouarzazate (Morocco) - Casablanca (Morocco) - Barcelona (Spain)

As The Amazing Race 10 around the world approaches its final leg, it’s harmless fun to take part in the polls on the CBS Web site, where viewers score and rate which team of travellers is their favorite, which they think will be eliminated next, and which will finish first.

But it’s a different story when it’s the government that is secretly, and based on secret information, scoring and rating travellers; storing those secret “risk assessments” in secret personal dossiers about each of us, to be kept for up to 40 years; and using those secret ratings and secret records secretly to decide whether to allow us to travel or whether to subject us to more intrusive search or more intensive questioning whenever we are permitted to travel.

That’s what the USA Department of Homeland Security has been doing, reportedly for several years, as part of an Automated Targeting System (ATS) in which anyone who travels is, apparently, among those being targetted.

The ATS system had previously been described as a Customs Service (“Bureau of Customs and Border Protection”) program for screening cargo and shipping containers. The fact that it is also being used for all international travellers was revealed for the first time in a notice in the Federal Register early last month, and in slighly more detail in a so-called Privacy Impact Assessment last week.

As part of my work with the Identity Project I’ve been preparing formal comments to be filed Monday with the DHS, objecting to the creation and maintenance of this secret traveller scoring system, and demanding that these scores and dossiers on travellers be deleted from the government’s files.

You can read the complete comments of the Identity Project here .

Among the more outrageous things about the Automated Targeting System is that Congress has, in three successive years — most recently in late October 2006, just a few weeks before the DHS made its scheme public — enacted laws expressly forbidding the DHS from doing any such thing. According to each of the last three annual DHS Appropriations Acts:

None of the funds provided in this or previous appropriations Acts may be utilized to develop or test algorithms assigning risk to passengers whose names are not on Government watch lists.

Defying this direct order from Congress, the DHS notice in the Federal Register says that:

ATS builds a risk assessment for … travelers based on criteria and rules developed by CBP [DHS Bureau of customs and Border Protection]. ATS maintains the resulting assessment…. This assessment and related rules history associated with developing a risk assessment for an individual are maintained for up to forty years to support ongoing targeting requirements.

The ATS also violates a prohibition in the Privacy Act on any Federal government agency collecting information about how we exercise rights protected by the First Amendment — like “the right of the people peacably to assemble” — without express Congressional authorization.

At the same time, I find it somewhat strange that the assignment of scores or “risk assessments” seems to have gotten more attention than the earlier DHS announcement of its intention to require individualized advance permisison each time anyone wants to get on a plane or a ship — which presumably is how the DHS intends to use the ATS scores.

More on that and related questions next week, when The Amazing Race 10 returns to the USA.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 3 December 2006, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

WOW!!! ONE paragraph this week and one last week as a commentary about The Amazing Race. Before last week I looked forward to the weekly commentaries.


I hope next week won't be a failure.


Posted by: Jim, 5 December 2006, 19:16 ( 7:16 PM)
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