ACLU Seeks Information on Government Ratings of Travelers

December 13, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information about the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Targeting System (ATS) terror-ranking program and renewed its call to Congress for the program to be shut down.

"It is vital that we have a full public debate on this massive traveler profiling system, which was only first disclosed to the public in November," said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. "To have a full public debate on this program, we need more information on how it works. ATS will touch hundreds of thousands of travelers daily and will have profound effects on Americans' privacy."

The ACLU’s request was filed with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security, seeking information about ATS, a security and tracking program that DHS recently notified the public assigns all who cross the nation’s borders, citizen and non-citizen alike, with a computer-generated "risk assessment" score that will be retained for 40 years.

"This program crosses a line," said Steinhardt. "ATS breaches one of our most fundamental values as a democracy: that the government does not review or scrutinize your life unless it has a reason to suspect you of wrongdoing. Once we set the security agencies down that road, their hunger for details of our lives will know no bounds, and will be applied for all manner of security purposes large and small."

The government claims that it never kept the ATS program secret, but it never filed a public notice in the Federal Register describing the new database that holds their computers’ risk ratings of American citizens and others for 40 years. The Privacy Act requires such a notice before a database holding Americans’ personal information can be created. The ACLU also maintains that ATS violates a Congressional prohibition on airline passenger risk scoring that has been in every recent DHS appropriations bill passed by the Congress.

"Congress needs to step in and exercise its oversight authority to protect Americans’ privacy," said Tim Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "The Bush administration has made routine mass scrutiny of innocent people a hallmark of its approach to combating terrorism, and Congress needs to put a stop to it right away."

A copy of the ACLU’s FOIA request as well as other materials on ATS is online at:

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