DHS to step up terrorism screening

The Homeland Security Department disclosed that it is assigning terrorism risk assessments to anyone seeking to enter or leave the United States. The records are excluded from public review and maintained for up to 40 years.

In a Federal Register notice, DHS said the Automated Targeting System passenger screening is not new, but the agency does not identify when the program began. The purpose of the Nov. 2 announcement is to provide additional notice to the public of the system's existence and what functions it performs, DHS said. Public comments are due by Dec. 4.

Travelers leaving the United States by airline since Sept. 11, 2001, have been screened against a terrorist watch list. The newly disclosed assessments apply to travelers who leave by foot and by automobile as well, the Federal Register notice said.

Privacy groups describe the risk assessments as intrusive.

"The system appears to involve the data-mining of massive amounts of information derived from a wide variety of sources, including Passenger Name Record data obtained from commercial air carriers," according to a notice posted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Passenger Name Record information including dates of reservation, dates of travel, names, seat information, address, payment information, phone number, travel agency, itinerary, e-mail addresses and number of bags.

All data in the new system will be exempt from the access and correction requirements of the Privacy Act of 1974. The risk assessment records are stored electronically at the National Data Center.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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