Homeland Security's Data Vacuum Cleaner In ActionSeptember 23, 2007
An Identity Project investigation into the incredible amount of personal information collected by DHS was published yesterday. Titled “Homeland Security’s Data Vacuum Cleaner In Action,” the report documents how DHS keeps track of your race, what you read, where you sleep and with whom you associate. Wired’s story from yesterday was followed-up by a front page splash in today’s Washington Post.
Homeland Security's Data Vacuum Cleaner In Action
An Investigation by the Identity Project
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has quietly perfected and begun to implement their scheme that will require Americans to seek and get permission from DHS in order to travel both domestically and abroad.
The results of an investigation by the Identity Project show that DHS is actively collecting information on what Americans read, with whom they associate, and the ethnicity of individual American travelers. DHS is also actively acquiring the travel records of Americans that document non-US travel, e.g., intra-European flights.
Almost one hundred pages of travel records were turned-over by DHS to the Identity Project in response to Privacy Act requests. These documents ‐ many heavily redacted ‐ make clear that DHS is not being honest and forthright with the American public.
I. ATS, APIS, Secure Flight: Different Bottles, Same Water
A. The Bottles
For years, DHS ran a secret travel surveillance program called the Automated Targeting System. This data mining program came to light earlier this year when DHS announced plans to openly monitor the international comings and goings of Americans with a legal version of the scheme called the Automated Passenger Information System, or APIS.
APIS, which is now fully operational, places requirements for government-issued travel credentials on all Americans as well as individualized, explicit, prior, per-flight permission to travel ("clearance") by DHS on every American citizen wishing to leave or enter the United States. In conducting APIS, DHS pulls in huge amounts of data on every passenger.
Secure Flight will put these same requirements on all Americans for domestic travel. Under Secure Flight, an American wishing to fly within the United States will need permission from DHS for each segment of his travels.
B. The Water
The main source of information DHS uses to determine whether to grant an American permission to travel by air comes from their flight reservation, or PNR. The PNR contains a wealth of deeply personal information, as this report will soon show. For DHS to argue that the APIS foreign travel surveillance program and the Secure Flight domestic travel surveillance program are separate and distinct is a fiction, if not an outright falsehood. They are but two bottling plants drawing water from the same spring.
II. The Identity Project Investigation
When word first leaked of the existence of the hitherto secret ATS program, the identity Project filed a series of Privacy Act records requests on behalf of US citizens who had traveled overseas. DHS eventually turned-over almost one hundred pages of documents in response to the requests. The documents received consist of the travel dossiers compiled by DHS on five American citizens, including PNRs and border inspection records.
1. DHS is maintaining records of the books individual Americans read, as shown in this DHS Customs and Border Protection document:
2. DHS keeps track of the race of American travelers, as this secondary inspection record shows:
3. DHS keeps records of where US citizens state they have traveled, their profession, and with whom they have associated:
4. The individual travel reservation (PNR) data information is pulled in its entirety by DHS rather than filtered and then pushed by the airlines. This means that a tremendous amount of highly personal information is vacuumed-up by the US government, analyzed, and stored. While DHS' Transportation Security Administration (TSA) states that flight records will be destroyed within days of the completion of travel, they say they will store the travel details of 'suspected terrorists' for decades. TSA defines all Americans as 'suspects', and will therefore never destroy any travel data collected.
The sensitive information contained in an individual PNR vacuumed-up by DHS includes the telephone numbers of both the American and the number given to the airlines while abroad for contact if the flight is cancelled (here a family member living in Tokyo):
...the record locators of others with whom they travel:
...who their travel agent is:
...and the initials of the individual agent:
Even the different possibilities the travel agent explored before choosing the best route for the American traveler are in the PNR and are stored by DHS:
DHS also collects and stores flight details on travel having nothing to do with US international travel. In this example, an American traveled from Berlin to Prague and then onward to London:
By keeping tabs on what individual citizens read and with whom they associate, the Department of Homeland Security is collecting data on the free exercise of 1st Amendment activities in direct violation of the Privacy Act 1974. The Department of Homeland Security is violating the fundamental right to travel, a right elemental to the free exercise of so many other rights, by requiring American citizens to get permission from DHS in order to leave or enter the United States, or to travel by air within the United States.
The documents obtained by the Identity Project most likely are but the tip of the iceberg when analyzing the degree of invasiveness perpetrated by DHS on an unsuspecting American public.
Congressional action is urgently needed to investigate and defund all DHS surveillance programs that create this creation of records on "suspected terrorists" - meaning you - that violate the inalienable right of all Americans to travel freely, without governmental interference.
U.S. Airport Screeners Are Watching What You Read
By Ryan Singel 09.20.07
International travelers concerned about being labeled a terrorist or drug runner by secret Homeland Security algorithms may want to be careful what books they read on the plane. Newly revealed records show the government is storing such information for years.
Privacy advocates obtained database records showing that the government routinely records the race of people pulled aside for extra screening as they enter the country, along with cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors about their purpose in traveling. In one case, the records note Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore's choice of reading material, and worry over the number of small flashlights he'd packed for the trip.
The breadth of the information obtained by the Gilmore-funded Identity Project (using a Privacy Act request) shows the government's screening program at the border is actually a "surveillance dragnet," according to the group's spokesman Bill Scannell.
"There is so much sensitive information in the documents that it is clear that Homeland Security is not playing straight with the American people," Scannell said.
The documents show a tiny slice of the massive airline-record collection stored by the government, as well as the screening records mined for the controversial Department of Homeland Security passenger-rating system that assigns terrorist scores to travelers entering and leaving the country, including U.S. citizens.
The so-called Automated Targeting System scrutinizes every airline passenger entering or leaving the country using classified rules that tell agents which passengers to give extra screening to and which to deny entry or exit from the country.
The system relies on data ranging from the government's 700,000-name terrorism watchlist to data included in airline-travel database entries, known as Passenger Name Records, which airlines are required to submit to the government.
According to government descriptions, ATS mines data from intelligence, law enforcement and regulatory databases, looking for linkages in order to identify "high-risk" targets who may not already be on terrorist watchlists.
ATS was started in the late 1990s, but was little known until the government issued a notice about the system last fall. The government has subsequently modified the proposed rules for the system, shortening the length of time data is collected and allowing individuals to request some information used by the scoring system.
The government stores the PNRs for years and typically includes destinations, phone and e-mail contact information, meal requests, special health requests, payment information and frequent-flier numbers.
The Identity Project filed Privacy Act requests for five individuals to see the data stored on them by the government.
The requests revealed that the PNRs also included information on one requester's race, the phone numbers of overseas family members given to the airlines as emergency contact information, and a record of a purely European flight that had been booked overseas separately from an international itinerary, according to snippets of the documents shown to Wired News.
The request also revealed the screening system includes inspection notes from earlier border inspections.
One report about Gilmore notes: "PAX (passenger) has many small flashlights with pot leaves on them. He had a book entitled 'Drugs and Your Rights.'" Gilmore is an advocate for marijuana legalization.
Another inspection entry noted that Gilmore had "attended computer conference in Berlin and then traveled around Europe and Asia to visit friends. 100% baggage exam negative.... PAX is self employed 'Entrepreneur' in computer software business."
"They are noting people's race and they are writing down what people read," Scannell said.
It doesn't matter that Gilmore was reading a book about drugs, rather than Catcher in the Rye, according to Scannell. "A book is a book," Scannell said. "This is just plain wrong."
The documents have also turned Scannell against the Department of Homeland Security's proposal for screening airline passengers inside the United States.
That project, known as Secure Flight, will take watchlist screening out of the hands of airlines, by having the airlines send PNR data to the government ahead of each flight. While earlier versions included plans to rate passenger's threat level using data purchased from private companies, DHS now proposes only to compare data in the PNR against names on the watchlist, which largely disarmed civil libertarians' opposition to the program.
That's changed for Scannell now, who sees Secure Flight as just another version of ATS.
"They want people to get permission to travel," Scannell said. "They already instituted it for leaving and entering the country and now they want to do it to visit your Aunt Patty in Cleveland."
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.
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The Journal of History - Fall 2007 Copyright © 2007 by News Source, Inc.