Sunday, 10 December 2006

Half a million people denied their right to travel

As I noted in one of my previous articles about the USA Department of Homeland Security’s “Automated Targeting System” (ATS):

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.

Now, in defending the ATS scheme, the DHS has revealed that they are already doing all the things that they claimed merely to be proposing to do as part of the conversion of the “Advanced Passenger Information System” (APIS) into a travel authorization program — language I first heard used by speakers at the ICAO meeting I attended on RFID passports and the larger vision of which they are a part.

According to the Web site of Time magazine:

The Identity Project , a privacy-rights group, has alleged that the ATS data collection is illegal. It claims that “Congress has expressly forbidden the DHS from spending a penny on any system like this to assign risk scores to airline passengers, and that the Privacy Act forbids any Federal agency from collecting information about how we exercise rights protected by the First Amendment - like our right to travel - except as expressly directed by Congress.”…

According to DHS, ATS was the primary means used to bar 565,417 people from entering the U.S last year; 493 of them were found to be inadmissible under “suspicion of terrorist or security grounds.” And thousands were turned back because DHS couldn’t quite be sure who they were.

Let’s take a look at what that means:

More than half a million people — foreigners and U.S. citizens seeking to leave, enter, or return home to the USA by air or land — have been denied their right to travel.

Fewer than 500 of them have even been alleged to be terrorist suspects. (How many, if any, of those were actually would-be terrorists we don’t know. Neither, in all probability, does the DHS.)

That means either 99.91% of those prevented form travelling were “false positives” erroneously deprived of their rights, or 99.91% of the use of the ATS was actually for purposes unrelated to the prevention of terrorism.

I’m sure there are lots of false positives for every “real” terrorist (if any) stopped, but I think the latter explanation is more likely: Prevention of terrorism is marginal to the purposes or actual operation of the targetting system, but provides a convenient excuse to justify an otherwise politically unacceptable and legally impermissable all-purpose dragnet of surveillance and control of our movements — U.S. citizens and foreigners alike, wherever we go.

And what about those “thousands [who] were turned back because DHS couldn’t quite be sure who they were”? The implication is that the DHS has already begun to presume that all would-be travellers are suspect, and to place the burden of proof on us to show (according to standards, if there are any standards, which remain secret) that we are entitled to leave the U.S., or to enter or return to the land of our citizenship.

In the mind of the DHS, the default is, already, “No, you can’t go.” Never mind the presumption of innocence, or Constitutional or human rights.

I heard today from a relative of my partner, who only through great luck, sympathetic friends including those in other countries, and the courage and determination of his family obtained the necessary documents (passports, entry permits for a country willing to take them in, and an exit permit from Germany on condition they leave immediately and leave behind all their valuables) to escape the Nazi Holocaust by leaving the land of his birth, childhood, and citizenship.

“I’ve heard all this before”, he said of the newly-revealed requirements for permission (“clearance”) for international air travel — perhaps already being extended through ATS to land travel.

“But the last time I heard it, it was in German.”

[Addendum, 11 December 2006: Meanwhile, in the UK, a similar advance permission (“board/no board”) scheme is now being tested as part of the travel industry’s Simplifying Passenger Travel inititive.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 10 December 2006, 16:45 ( 4:45 PM)

I understand these security measure but it seems to me that DHS is exaggerating a little bit. I think they should implement a safer system but denying people's tights to travel is to much.

Posted by: kitchen islands, 17 May 2007, 00:36 (12:36 AM)
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