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Context of '2002 and After: Millions of Americans Assigned Terrorism Risk Scores without Their Knowledge'

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)‘s Automated Targeting System begins assigning terrorism risk scores to American and foreign citizens crossing US borders. The scores, generated by government computers, are supposed to approximate the risk that the travelers are terrorists or criminals. They are reportedly based on analysis of travelers’ “travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered,” according to the Associated Press. The government plans to keep these scores on file for 40 years. Travelers are not permitted to challenge, or even see, their risk scores. DHS says the program is “one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world” and insists that without this data the nation’s ability to identify security threats “would be critically impaired.” [Associated Press, 11/30/2006; Associated Press, 12/1/2006] Critics of the initiative say the program violates the appropriations bill for the agency which prohibits “assigning risk to passengers whose names are not on government watch lists.” [Associated Press, 12/7/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Automated Targeting System

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

FEMA is merged into the Emergency and Response Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. Michael D. Brown, the agency’s new head (see March 1, 2003), assures skeptics that the revamped agency will be “FEMA on steroids.” [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004] FEMA’s Cabinet status disappears as it becomes one of 22 government agencies to be consolidated into DHS. According to the Washington Post,“For a time… even its name was slated to vanish and become simply the directorate of emergency preparedness and response until then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge relented.” [Washington Post, 9/4/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Michael D. Brown, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Electronic Frontier Foundation files a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to obtain more information about a secret program called the Automated Targeting System (ATS) (see 2002 and After). This program allows the government to assign terror risk numbers to American citizens who enter or leave the US. The suit demands an expedited response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed earlier in the month. Frontier Foundation Senior Counsel David Sobel says, “DHS needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this ‘risk assessment’ score that will follow them throughout their lives.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 12/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research organization affiliated with Syracuse University, has discovered that terrorism claims formed less that 0.01 percent of immigration court charges filed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The immigration court records were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Of 814,073 cases brought to the immigration courts by the DHS, 12, or 0.0015 percent, were for charges of terrorism. In addition, 114 cases, or 0.014 percent, concerned individuals charged with national security violations. TRAC spokesman David Burnham says, “The DHS claims it is focused on terrorism. Well that’s just not true. Either there’s no terrorism, or they’re terrible at catching them. Either way it’s bad for all of us.” TRAC further claims that there exists an “apparent gap between DHS rhetoric about its role in fighting terrorism and what it actually has been doing.” DHS spokesman Russ Knocke calls the TRAC report “ill-conceived” and said the group “lack[s] a grasp of the DHS mission.” The DHS claims that any clampdown on immigration decreases the likelihood of terrorists entering the US. [CNN, 5/27/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, David Burnham, Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse, Russ Knocke, Syracuse University

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi is interviewed by journalist Christopher Ketcham about the Main Core database, which apparently contains a list of potential enemies of the US state. Giraldi does not know any definite information about the database, but he speculates that it must be contained within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—“so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that the DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and says it has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. “It’s clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear.” Giraldi continues, “I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons—quite likely including the two of us.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Philip Giraldi, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

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