Thursday, September 27, 2007
U.S. Effort More Extensive Than Previously Known
By Ellen Nakashima
"The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials."
"The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country."
"But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged."
"Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for more than 15 years, said that his file contained coding that reflected his plan to fly with another individual. In fact, Hasbrouck wound up not flying with that person, but the record, which can be linked to the other passenger's name, remained in the system. 'The Automated Targeting System,' Hasbrouck alleged, 'is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans' personal activities that the government has ever created.' He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. 'It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous,' he said. 'If you sat next to someone once, that's a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that's a relationship.' "
" 'But DHS Trip does not allow a traveler to challenge an agency decision in court, said David Sobel, senior counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued the DHS over information concerning the policy underlying the ATS. Because the system is exempted from certain Privacy Act requirements, including the right to 'contest the content of the record,' a traveler has no ability to correct erroneous information, Sobel said."
" 'Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter, said in an interview that he has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about 'politically charged' opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, 'they had them printed out on the table in front of me.' "