Mar 21 2009

DHS releases (censored) documents on Automated Targeting System

As part of its celebration of “Sunshine Week”, The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted more than a thousand pages of documents about the Automated Targeting System (ATS) for archiving and data-mining airline reservations to asisgn risk scores to all international travelers, released by the Department of Homeland Security over the last two years in response to Freedom of Informaiton Act requests and a FOIA lawsuit by EFF’s FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) project.

DHS claims still to be searching for and “processing” yet more documents responsive to the original requests, the documents that have been released are heavily redacted, and the lawsuit is ongoing.  Recently, EFF has asked the Court hearing the case to stay further proceedings while DHS decisions under the Bush Administration to withhold and redact documents at issue in the case are reviewed in light of the Obama Administration’s new instructions to Federal agencies on transparecncy and the processing of FOIA requests.

We’re still making our way through the newly-published documents for the first time, but they include extensive internal DHS discussion on how to respond to our criticisms, when the DHS first published the official notice (we’re still not exactly sure how many years after the fact) that was supposed to precede the deployment of any such system of Federal records about individuals, that the ATS was being used for a purpose specifically forbidden by Congress.  The documents also seem to confirm, even through the redactions, the lack of understanding by DHS of what information is included in the Passenger Name Records (PNRs) being sucked into government databases by the ATS dragnet, or how to interpret it.  Briefing memos prepared by operational staff for senior policy officials and public relations spokespeople refer to what PNRs “seem” to contain, and appear to be based on guesses and reverse engineering rather than on any expertise in industry standards, messaging protocols (such as the AIRIMP), or business practices.

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