What's Your Travel Terrorism Score?

by Ian MacKenzie Nov 5, 2006

The freedom of movement looks to take another blow this winter, with the introduction of two inititatives from the Department of Homeland Security. The first is the ominous sounding “Automated Targeting System” – a system which combines various sources of your data to compute your terrorism risk when crossing the American border.

Says the Wired blog:

“The data — which includes all the information you give to an airline such as medical conditions, frequent flier number, special meal requests, home and email addresses, payment information and your travel agent’s names — will be held for up to 40 years. The data can be shared with any government agency or local law enforcement agency for civil or criminal matters, and can even be shared with foreign governments as data to test other data-mining programs, even ones not related to border security.”

In essence, it’s a secret database that is even immune from the Privacy Act. The government will know as much as they want about you, and you aren’t allowed to see it. Granted, much of this data is already collected so it’s not totally new.

As if that wasn’t enough for travelers to deal with,
beginning Jan 14, 2007 the Department has also proposed all airlines be required to obtain clearance for every passenger leaving or entering the US.

Traditionally, a U.S. passport would have been enough to qualify for the right to enter our leave, anytime the holder wants. With these new regulations, all passengers would have to wait for specific clearance.

From Friends of Liberty:

“Why might the HSA deny you permission to leave-or enter-the United States? No one knows, because the entire clearance procedure would be an administrative determination made secretly, with no right of appeal. Basically, if the HSA decides it doesn’t like you, you’re a prisoner – either outside, or inside, the United States, whether or not you hold a U.S. passport.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized there is a constitutional right to travel internationally. Indeed, it has declared that the right to travel is ‘a virtually unconditional personal right.’ The United States has also signed treaties guaranteeing ‘freedom of travel.’ So if these regulations do go into effect, you can expect a lengthy court battle, both nationally and internationally.”

Some people believe this isn’t really cause for alarm. As one commenter left in response to the Wired post,

“This has got to be the most stupid ostrich head-in-the-sand fearmongering I’ve ever heard of. You might as well be horrified because when you walk in a bank the tellers use their eyes and observe whether you’re carrying a gun and wearing a black mask or not, and make decisions accordingly.”

But does it reflect a deeper way of looking at society, by viewing a person as you suspect, instead of as they are? Another commenter wrote, “The bigger trouble isn’t within the secret databases: It’s being judged to be your past sum of electronic records, rather than an ever changing person living now.”

Now it begins to sound eerily like the only thing between you and a “suspected terrorist” is a typo. And those that believe this would never happen should look into the story of Maher Arar.

What do you think? Further invastion of privacy or a necessary tactic in the fight against terror?

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