ACLU Lauds Senate Hearing on Government Breaches of Privacy, Says Much-Needed Oversight Long Overdue

January 10, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union applauded a key Senate panel today for examining government data-mining programs, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Tracking System (ATS). The hearing was held this morning under the leadership of the new Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“This hearing demonstrates that Congress agrees with those who do not want the government snooping in our personal affairs for no reason,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We hope that this is a first step towards restoring some of the liberties lost under the Bush administration. Kudos to Senator Leahy for making American’s basic privacy rights a priority.”

Last year, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security, seeking information about ATS, a security and tracking program that assigns all who cross the nation’s borders, citizen and non-citizen, with a computer-generated “risk assessment” score that will be retained for 40 years. The ACLU also charged that ATS and other data-mining programs violate the Privacy Act, which requires public notice before the government builds any new databases containing personal information on Americans.

Additionally, in public comments filed with DHS, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of he House Homeland Security Committee, noted the ATS program, without adequate safeguards, “may constitute violations of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

In addition to ATS, the public has soundly rejected many proposed government data-mining programs including Total Information Awareness and Secure Flight. Such programs raise serious concerns that the government is creating centralized databases filled with private information that will be used to bring millions of innocent Americans under suspicion without justification. Furthermore, such programs deny people the right to challenge erroneous data.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee should be commended for examining programs that turn innocent Americans into suspects without justification because a computer program does not like the books they read or the places they travel,” said Timothy Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “No scientist has ever demonstrated data-mining can predict who will commit a crime or act of terror. We welcome this new era of oversight and urge lawmakers to better protect our privacy.”

For more information about the ACLU’s concern with the Automated Tracking System, go to:

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