December 6 2006
by Jerome Doulgas
(NewsTarget) For the past four years, federal agents have been assigning computer-generated scores to millions of international travelers -- including Americans -- in an attempt to rate the risk each poses of being a terrorist or a criminal.
All of these travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, even though the U.S. government intends to keep them on file for 40 years. The individual scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States after computers assess their travel records.
Pieces of individual information such as: where each traveler is from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered are all entered into the federal government's database to produce an assessment score.
In November, the program's existence was quietly disclosed when the government put an announcement detailing the Automated Targeting System (ATS) for the first time in the Federal Register, which is a fine-print compendium of federal rules.
Civil liberties lawyers, congressional aides and even law enforcement officers said they thought this system had been applied only to cargo -- but that was not the case after the new ATS system was examined in detail.
The Department of Homeland Security notice called the ATS program "one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world." DHS stated that the nation's ability to spot criminals and other security threats would be "critically impaired" without access to the ATS data.
Privacy advocated and others concerned with civil liberties, however, view the ATS system with concern and alarm. David Sobel -- a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- said that "It's probably the most invasive system the government has yet deployed in terms of the number of people affected."
Currently, government officials could not say whether ATS has apprehended any terrorists, but the Customs and Border Protection federal agency said that its agents refuse entry to about 45 foreign criminals every day based on all the information they have readily available.