Oct 05 2011

DHS pitches PNR-based travel surveillance and control at House hearing

A troika of officials from the DHS appeared today before the Subcommittee on  Counterterrorism and Intelligence of the House Committee on Homeland security to make a joint sales pitch for the proposed agreement between the US and the European Union on DHS access to PNR data (airline reservations).

Today’s hearing appears to have been staged purely as a propaganda exercise intended to mislead European Union officials and citizens about the PNR agreement and DHS use of PNR data. The proposed “agreement” would not be a treaty (and thus would be unenforcible in U.S. courts). Even if it were reformulated as a treaty — as the European Parliament has demanded as a condition for its ratification of the agreement — it would only require ratification by the U.S. Senate, not the House of Representatives.

The House subcommittee hearing certainly looked as though it was held to create a stage for the DHS.  The three DHS officials were the only witnesses. They  included Chief “Privacy” Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, who Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project debated in June at CFP,  and David Heyman (successor to Stewart Baker, who wrote the original US-EU PNR agreement as DHS Asst. Secretary for Policy), who had been scheduled to participate in the CFP panel but canceled at the last minute.

In the absence of any independent or non-governmental witnesses who might have raised questions or presented alternative views, the DHS witnesses at today’s hearing presented a “united front” including an unusual joint written statement.

For the most part, the DHS repeated the same lies today as have appeared in previous DHS reports and lobbying to the EU. For example, they described PNR data incorrectly as “the data an airline receives from a traveler,” ignoring the data entered in PNRs (unbeknownst to travelers) by travel companies and other third parties. They said that “Of the literally billions of passengers traveling to and from the United States during the past 10 years, there has not been a single … use of PNR in violation of established privacy protections,” despite the DHS track record of using PNR data as the basis for denying innocent people — including both US and EU citizens — their right to travel.

In their most egregious lie, perjuring themselves before Congress, the DHS witnesses claimed again (falsely) today, as they have claimed (falsely) before, that:

DHS applies fair information practice principles to its collection and use of PNR, including … auditing and accountability, individual access, and redress. Moreover, the Department is firmly committed to transparency when it comes to informing our partners and the public about its mission, including how we use … identifiable information such as PNR data.

This statement is false. The DHS witnesses who made this statement knew it was false. And they made it for the sole purpose of misleading Europeans about the facts.

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