Mar 07 2012

All US police to get access to international travel records?

This just in from the “All international travelers are suspected terrorists” department:

In response to questions (see the video at approx. 37:00-38:30) from members of a House Homeland Security subcommittee during a hearing yesterday, DHS Deputy Counter-Terrorism Coordinator John Cohen said that, as part of the Orwellianly-named “Secure Communities” program, local police will soon be receiving the result of a check of DHS international travel logs, automatically, for every person arrested anywhere in the US for even a minor offense. Local police will be able to run checks of travel records for “nonoffenders” — innocent people — as well.

According to one report:

Under the forthcoming plan, authorities will be able to instantly pull up an offender’s or nonoffender’s immigration records and biometric markers, he said. The government already is able to vet visitor records from multiple databases for national security and public safety threats, Cohen added.

“So, today, if someone is arrested for any type of offense, part of the query that will take place will be an automatic check of immigrations systems — it will be a check of TECS as well,” he said. “The chances are greatly enhanced that today if somebody were to be booked on a minor drug offense or a serious traffic violation even, the person’s immigration status would come to our attention.”

Here’s what the result of a TECS check might look like: logs of (legal) international travel, and notes from customs inspectors about whatever events they considered noteworthy (again, including events that were entirely legal).  We got these linked examples before DHS exempted TECS from most of the access requirements of the Privacy Act. You no longer have any legal right in the US to find out what’s in the TECS records about yourself. And while TECS was being described to Congress as an immigration enforcement system, these examples are from TECS records about a US citizen. Logs are kept in TECS of everyone who travels to, from, or via the US — even US citizens.

TECS used to include complete airline reservations (Passenger Name Records). PNR data has been re-categorized as a separate DHS system of records, the “Automated Targeting System”. But TECS records include the traveler’s name and the airline code, flight number, and date of each flight, which is sufficient information to retrieve the complete PNR from the airline or the computerized reservation system (CRS) that hosts it. This airline data is obtained from APIS transmissions, which the US has claimed to the European Union are used only for a narrow range of purposes.

Soon, it will be as easy for any local law enforcement officer anywhere in the US to run a “TECS check” of these records about you as it is today for them to run a check of your criminal record from NCIC. Except that the records in TECS are records of your exercise of First Amendment rights of freedom of assembly, not records of criminal convictions.

Or should we be asking if the DHS now thinks that foreign travel has become tantamount to a crime?

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  1. Pingback: “Put them on the no-fly list!” – Papers, Please!

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