Dec 24 2008

Weekly DHS propaganda hour on prime-time broadcast TV

Giving new meaning to the epithet, “security theater”, the hit Australian reality-television show Border Security has been franchised to the USA in the form of Homeland Security USA.

The weekly hour-long “reality” program is scheduled to begin Tuesday night, January 6th, 2009, on ABC.  Having seen the Australian predecessor, we can hardly wait to see how the DHS, with its growing focus on spin control and image management, wants to be seen.

The show boasts of the “full cooperation” of all DHS departments, without which it couldn’t be produced — and, therefore, who it can’t afford to offend if it wants to continue.

Dec 24 2008

DHS admits problems in disclosing travel surveillance records

On Friday, December 19th, the Privacy Office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released A Report Concerning Passenger Name Record Information Derived From Flights Between The U.S. and the European Union.

This is a very important report for both US and European travelers, but not for the reasons the DHS claims:

The authors of the report conclude that DHS handling of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data is in compliance with both US law (particularly the Privacy Act) and the DHS-EU agreement on USA access to, and use of, PNR data related to flights between the EU and the USA.

In fact, the report contains multiple admissions that support exactly the opposite conclusion: The DHS has complied with neither the agreement with the EU, nor US law (especially, but not only, the Privacy Act), in its use of PNR data concerning US citizens as well as Europeans and other foreigners.

The DHS has legal obligations to US citizens and residents under the Privacy Act, and commitments to travelers from the EU under the PNR agreeement, to allow individuals timely access to PNR data about them held by the DHS. According to the report:

DHS policy allows persons (including foreign nationals) to access and seek redress under the Privacy Act to raw PNR data maintained in ATS-P.

Despite this, the DHS Privacy Office has now reported that:

  1. Requests for PNR data have typically taken more than a year to answer — many times longer than the legal time limits in the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act: “The requests for PNR took more than one year to process.”
  2. When individuals have requested “all data” about them held by the DHS, often they have not been given any of their PNR data: “If an individual requests ‘all information held by CBP’ the FOIA specialist generally does not search ATS because PNR was not specifically requested.”
  3. Because of this, the vast majority of requesters who should have received PNR data did not: “The PNR specific requests are a small percentage of the total requests based on the statistics provided to the Privacy Office, but if ATS-P were searched in all cases in which an individual asks for ‘all information held by CBP,’ the percentage would increase more than seven [sic]”
  4. PNR data has been inconsistently censored before it was released: “The requests for PNR … were inconsistent in what information was redacted.”
  5. A large backlog from the initial requests for PNR data remains unanswered, more than a year later: “Management noted that they have been understaffed and are bringing on new staff to reduce the backlog and period of time it takes to respond to requests. Additionally, management stated that part of the delayed response was due to the large number of requests initially submitted for PNR.”

To understand the full meaning and significance of the report, let’s quickly review the history of US government use of PNR data:

Read More

Dec 18 2008

Maryland Seeks to Change License Policy on Immigration In Order to Implement REAL ID System

Maryland’s governor and transportation secretary have announced that they will seek legislation to change the state’s long-standing policy on driver’s license registration and require proof of legal residence before issuing the cards to state residents. Maryland is hoping to make this change as it begins implementing the federal REAL ID national identification system. The governor had rejected a previous proposal for a two-tier system that would have allowed the issuance of a lower-tier license to individuals unwilling to show such proof.

According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Association’s site, REAL ID implementation means that. “Effective January 1, 2010, individuals applying for a new license will be required to show documentation to prove that they are in the United States legally.” Driver’s license applicants will have to show “Documents such as Social Security Card, U.S. Birth Certificate, U.S. Naturalization of Citizenship, Valid U.S. Passport, Valid Foreign Passport with Visa, U.S. Permanent Residency Card” or other documents to prove their legal presence in the United States.

We have previously detailed the many privacy and security problems that arise from requiring such documentation for a state driver’s license, but let’s focus on the immigration issue that Maryland is attempting to address. Read More

Dec 18 2008

DHS extends travel permission requirements for international visitors and general aviation

Continuing its “lame-duck” promulgation of rulings that will tie the hands of the new Presidential administration — or at least delay any efforts to reform DHS rules by requiring a new rulemaking process, or legislation, before they can be withdrawn — the DHS has published two new rules that will extend requirements for individualized pre-departure DHS permisison to international visitors seeking to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and to passengers and crew on international general aviation, private, non-scheduled, and non-airline flights to and from the USA:

Read More

Dec 18 2008

US-EU agreement to disagree

Over the weekend Stewart Baker of the DHS posted an entry in the DHS “Leadership Journal” blog entitled U.S. and EU Agree on Data Protection Principles.  Readers unfamiliar with the “back story” might conclude from this — as Baker and the DHS no doubt hope they will — that some sort of formal negotiations have been concluded, and that the USA and the European Union have actually worked out their differences on privacy and data protection.

Not so at all.  Many details remain unclear, as has been typical of DHS international diplomacy. All the meetings of the previous so-called “EU US High Level Contact Group on information sharing and privacy and personal data protection” occurred in secret.  But the joint statement by a new group of selected officials from US and EU executive agencies, released as an attachment to Baker’s blog post, indicates essentially the same impasse remains as existed when the “High Level Contact Group” made its final report in May 2008:

Read More

Dec 02 2008

As DHS Secretary, Napolitano Should Halt REAL ID System

The New York Times has a story today about Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano’s nomination as Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security. The story states that in this new position, Napolitano would have to lead the REAL ID program, a national identification scheme that DHS is attempting to foist on the states. As governor of Arizona, Napolitano signed legislation to join 10 other states in rejecting this national ID program.

The substantial civil liberty problems inherent in this scheme to create a national database of the country’s driver’s license and state ID cardholders won’t disappear if Napolitano replaces Michael Chertoff as the head of DHS. Napolitano should stick to her beliefs and reject this system. As governor, Napolitano focused on the high cost of implementing this national ID system to the states, and these costs will remain substantial if the new administration implements the system created under Chertoff.

In The Identity Project’s recommendations to the Obama transition team, we urged the repeal of REAL ID. Besides the civil liberty problems, REAL ID also has security problems. Those of us who have been following the REAL ID issue, as well as other identification-based security programs, know that there is no sure way for an individual to prove his or her identity based merely on documents that can be easily forged. Therefore, REAL ID would create a system that people would trust even though they shouldn’t — because criminals and terrorists can spend the time and money necessary to forge these “trusted” ID cards.

REAL ID is a fundamentally flawed national ID system for which there is no fix. It must be repealed, and Napolitano should halt the implementation when she takes office.