December 1, 2006

Secret New Terrorist Ratings of American Citizens and Others Could Not Be Challenged

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@dcaclu.org      

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today condemned an unprecedented new program for generating terrorist ratings on tens of millions of travelers, including American citizens, maintaining those ratings for 40 years, and making them available throughout the government.

“Never before in American history has our government gotten into the business of creating mass ‘risk assessment’ ratings of its own citizens,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project.  “That is a radical new step with far-reaching implications – but one that has been taken almost thoughtlessly by expanding a cargo-tracking system to incorporate human beings, and with little public notice, discussion, or debate.”

The program, called the Automated Tracking System, was originally a system purely for the tracking of cargo, but in a Federal Register notice published in early November and a Privacy Impact Assessment published just this week, DHS announced that it also plans to generate ratings on travelers.  The department also claimed sweeping exemptions from the Privacy Act of 1974.

“Innocent people are going to get caught up in this program, and they will have precious little recourse under it,” said Tim Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.  “When some unknown government computer, using unknown sources of information, tags you as a ‘security risk’ and begins circulating that label around the government, you will have no meaningful way of finding out why you were given that label, let alone challenging its validity.” 

In formal comments being filed today with DHS, the ACLU urged the department to abandon this program, or at the very least to extend the time period in which public comments can be submitted.  As it now stands, the department has declared that the program will become effective this Monday, Dec. 4 – only one week after it released its Privacy Impact Assessment. 

“The government tried to institute the CAPPS II program of ‘risk assessments’ on passengers several years ago, and a huge uproar rightly followed, and the Congress was forced to intervene,” said Steinhardt.  “We are stunned to learn that DHS is now implementing an even more far-reaching program with virtually no opportunity for the public to evaluate or comment on it.”

To read the ACLU's comments, go to:
/privacy/gen/27593leg20061201.html

 

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