Thursday, August 21, 2008

Citizens' U.S. Border Crossings Tracked - Data From Checkpoints To Be Kept for 15 Years

I felt guilty not posting this rather disturbing story yesterday regarding the latest gross infringement on our right to privacy by the federal government. Of course, the government is going to it's ace in the hole: the program is all about keeping us safe from those drug-running Mexicans and wanna be terrorists! Ha!

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday the latest doozie coming from the Department of Homeland Security - the keystone cops of national security: A database that tracks every American citizen’s border crossings and catalogs the data for as long as 15 years, with essentially little or no privacy protections to prevent abuse.

The Washingto Post reports:

The federal government has been using its system of border checkpoints to greatly expand a database on travelers entering the country by collecting information on all U.S. citizens crossing by land, compiling data that will be stored for 15 years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations.

Officials say the Border Crossing Information system, disclosed last month by the Department of Homeland Security in a Federal Register notice, is part of a broader effort to guard against terrorist threats. It also reflects the growing number of government systems containing personal information on Americans that can be shared for a broad range of law enforcement and intelligence purposes, some of which are exempt from some Privacy Act protections.


The volume of people entering the country by land prevented compiling such a database until recently. But the advent of machine-readable identification documents, which the government mandates eventually for everyone crossing the border, has made gathering the information more feasible. By June, all travelers crossing land borders will need to present a machine-readable document, such as a passport or a driver's license with a radio frequency identification chip.


Critics say the moves exemplify efforts by the Bush administration in its final months to cement an unprecedented expansion of data gathering for national security and intelligence purposes..."People expect to be checked when they enter the country and for the government to determine if they're admissible or not," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology. "What they don't expect is for the government to keep a record for 15 years of their comings into the country...This database is, in a sense, worse than a watch list," he said. "At least in the watch-list scenario, there's some reason why the name got on the list. Here, the only thing a person does to come to the attention of DHS is to lawfully cross the border. The theory of this data collection is: Track everyone -- just in case."


DHS and other agencies are amassing more and more data that they subject to sophisticated analysis. A customs document issued last month stated that the agency does not perform data mining on border crossings to glean relationships and patterns that could signify a terrorist or law enforcement threat. But the Federal Register notice states that information may be shared with federal, state and local governments to test "new technology and systems designed to enhance border security or identify other violations of law." And the Homeland Security Act establishing the department calls for the development of data-mining tools to further the department's objectives.

That raises concerns, privacy advocates say, that analyses can be undertaken that could implicate innocent people if appropriate safeguards are not used.


Because of privacy concerns, Washington state earlier this year opted for the queries-only approach. The Canadian government made the same decision. "There was absolutely no way they should have the entire database," said Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's privacy commissioner, who learned about the Canadian government's decision in April. "Once you have data in a database you don't need, it lends itself to unauthorized use," she said. "You have no idea of the data creep."

Every time I hear about the latest program designed to whittle away at our right to privacy and the liberty that it affords us - and how its somehow "necessary to save us from terrorists and illegal immigrants" - I wonder if I'm the only one who remembers that our government had ALL THE INFORMATION NECESSARY to prevent 9/11...but they just happened to fail miserably in doing so?

No amount of wiretapping, monitoring, surveillance, or recording and storing of our personal data would have changed what happened on that fateful day...the only change such actions bring us is a country that is no longer free...which kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it?

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