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Updated — Computers Rank Travelers For Terrorism Risk November 30, 2006

Posted by Michael in Terrorist Hemorrhoids.

By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer

18 minutes ago

WASHINGTON – For the past four years, without public notice, federal agents have assigned millions of Americans and other international travelers computer-generated scores assessing the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals. The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments. And the government intends to keep them on file for 40 years.

Great!  Glad to know my tax dollars are doing something useful. 

Earlier in November, the government disclosed the existence and details of the Automated Targeting System (ATS) for the first time in the Federal Register. Privacy and civil liberties lawyers, congressional aides and even law enforcement officers said they thought the ATS had been applied only to cargo.

The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meals they ordered.

This means you should eat pork products when flying if you don’t want your luggage searched.   Better still, get online and request a kosher meal.

The Homeland Security Department notice called it “one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world” and said U.S. ability to spot criminals and other security threats “would be critically impaired without access to this data.”

All of this would be unnecessary if we let those DHS guys at the airport use some common sense and hassle the swarthy looking dudes with shifty eyes, passports from Muslim countries, and/or names like Abdullah.  But noooooo, that’s “racial profiling” and it discriminates  against the Religion of Peace.  So now we have spent a bazillion dollars on a computer system that accomplishes the same thing.

Still, privacy advocates view ATS with alarm. “It’s probably the most invasive system the government has yet deployed in terms of the number of people affected,” David Sobel, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group devoted to electronic data issues, said in an interview.

You say that like it’s a bad thing, David. 

A similar DHS data-mining project for domestic air travelers — now known as Secure Flight — caused a furor two years ago in Congress, which has barred its implementation until it can pass 10 tests for accuracy and privacy protection.

OK, I appreciate that Congress is concerned about privacy issues.  Really I do.  But let’s face it, if we are going to win the GWOT, we have to play to our strong suit, and the arsenal of highly sophisticated data mining technology at our disposal is exactly that.

Government rates travelers for terrorism


This story is getting bigger.  The whining and gnashing of teeth by various constituencies that reflexively oppose the rational use of data mining technology by law enforcement agencies has begun.

U.S. Terror Ratings Draw Outrage.


1. sandy burger - November 30, 2006

I think I fit the profile for a drug smuggler. It used to be that every time I went through US customs I would be thoroughly searched and questioned. But apparently I don’t fit the profile of a terrorist, which is all they really care about these days. I almost never get searched any more, and on the rare occasions that I do, it’s just a quick cursory glance through my bag.

9/11, oddly enough, has made flying more convenient for me.

2. Feisty - November 30, 2006

Well if you fly high all the time, Sandy, you can’t fault the guys for wanting to search your bags and your netherregions for contraband.

3. Dave in Texas - November 30, 2006

I don’t get too much of the wand and the gropy stuff.

4. Achmed - November 30, 2006

Jealous much?

5. Michael - November 30, 2006

Interesting IB Factoid: Sometime last night, our Sitemeter passed 300,000 page views.

6. Mrs. Peel - November 30, 2006

My boy got searched on our way home from NYC. I thought it was sort of funny given his pasty white complexion (I am dark compared to him) and the fact that a single spoken word is enough to brand him as a Texan.

*lovesick sigh* He’s so sexy.

7. Michael - November 30, 2006

Whoa, a trip to NYC with the bf? You have been holding out on us, Mrs. Peel. Do tell.

8. Mrs. Peel - November 30, 2006

My birthday was a three-day weekend this year (birthday on federal holiday + working for federal government = sweet), and 24 is a good number, so we went on a mini-vacation. It was fun.

9. Michael - November 30, 2006

It was fun.

That was the worst vacation story ever posted in the history of the intertubes.

C’mon. The Staten Island Ferry? Carriage ride in Central Park? An afternoon at MOMA?

10. geoff - November 30, 2006

C’mon. The Staten Island Ferry? Carriage ride in Central Park? An afternoon at MOMA?

They were too busy holed up in their room playing “TSA and the Terrorist.”

11. Lipstick - November 30, 2006

LOL Geoff!

My pasty Texan gets searched all the time too.

12. janet Reno - November 30, 2006

“My pasty Texan gets searched all the time too.”

Hey Now…!

13. Dave in Texas - November 30, 2006

I nevah get searched.

Unless I light a cigar in line.

14. amish Reno - November 30, 2006

well clearly i fucked up that joke.

Probably wouldnt have made it through the spam filter anyway.

Pasty Texan

15. Lipstick - November 30, 2006

Janet, you’re a large Floridian.

Back off.

16. Michael - December 1, 2006

I’m thinking that they are picking on pasty Texan males just to prove they’re not using a racial profile.

Scene from DFW:

TSA Employee Bob: Say Phil, I’m going to do a cavity search on the next three lily white Texas boys.

TSA Employee Phil: Great idea, Bob. Then I’ll check the carry-on bags of Mohammed at the end of the line there.


17. The Next Three Lily White Texas Boys - December 1, 2006

In Unison: “Score!”

18. geoff - December 1, 2006

On a slightly more serious note, this sort of thing (the database – you remember…in the post?) makes me nervous. The 40 year retention period will undoubtedly be extended, so your travel records and motor vehicle records will basically be held in perpetuity. The government has a poor track record of finding uses for that sort of data that go far beyond the original intent, and of hooking up these databases to other databases like service records, IRS records, medical records, and credit histories.

The second problem is that poor programming could result in some innocent person being singled out for searches for the rest of their life. And they can’t challenge the risk assessment to correct the problem? Or even look at what their assessment is? That’s just wrong, and it places citizens in a hugely inferior position to the government that supposedly is their servant.

19. Michael - December 1, 2006

It makes me nervous too, Geoff. There is no doubt in my mind that a program like this will result in errors, and probably even outright abuses of privacy rights. But let’s keep in mind that a data mining program like this is only going to be interested in a tiny fraction of air travelers that make it through a highly refined and statistically validated screen.

I’m just way more nervous about Islamic fascism. If we have to trade off some unjustified hassle and privacy intrusions in order to mitigate the risk of mass murder, that’s an easy choice for me. The adverse consequence of being wrongly identified by such a program is inconvenience, not death.

Keep in mind that a program like this is not just identifying travelers who might be attempting another 9/11 type of air piracy. They could be engaged in money laundering or purchasing materials for a dirty bomb. I want our law enforcement agencies to be using every reasonable tool at their disposal to figure out who those people are. For starters, looking at travel profiles strikes me as a good way to focus attention on high-risk individuals.

20. geoff - December 1, 2006

It would make me less nervous if they kept a rolling 5 year history, rather than retaining the entire history for 40 years. But regardless, you should have access to your data and the right of appeal. Otherwise it’s just another Big Brotherish tool.

21. lauraw - December 1, 2006

There should be an airline that waives all this shit for people who are willing to eat a piece of bacon in front of security, and fly without luggage or carryons.

Just ship all your stuff ahead to your destination before you disembark. So much easier.

22. geoff - December 1, 2006

Just ship all your stuff ahead to your destination before you disembark. So much easier.

Hey, we don’t all have that shipping stuff at hand, ya know. Not like some people who apparently even have mailing tubes for tubers.

23. Michael - December 1, 2006

Just ship all your stuff ahead to your destination before you disembark. So much easier.

You know, I hate to get finicky. But it seems to me that you would want to ship that stuff before you embark, as opposed to disembark. Cuz, it would be hard to pack and ship your stuff while you are in the air.

I’m just sayin’, somebody who packs and ships stuff for a living ought not to make such an obvious error. You are supposed to be a professional, after all.

Otherwise, I would not have mentioned this.

24. Michael - December 1, 2006

Laura calls me a fussy little bitch in 3……2…..1……

25. Mrs. Peel - December 1, 2006

Maybe my vacation is none of your business, Michael.

We spent my birthday having a walk through Central Park, then wandering through the Met, and then we had a nice dinner with a delicious dessert and went to see Wicked on Broadway. Oh, and he gave me a gorgeous pair of sapphire earrings. All in all, one of the better birthdays I’ve had in recent memory.

26. Michael - December 1, 2006

IB Factoid of the Day: A lefty blog linked this thread as being the most interesting thread on the topic of the post. (See reference No. 4 at the bottom of the post.)

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