On Thursday morning, DHS published a Privacy Act system-of-records notification in the Federal Register about the Automated Targeting System (ATS), specifically its person-centric component used to screen for entry into the United States, known as ATS-P.
I saw the notice on Thursday morning, and didn’t find it especially newsworthy, given the fact that there was an extensive prior history about ATS-P in the public record; for example, see this CBP annual report (see page 29), this congressional testimony by former DHS official Asa Hutchison from 2004, and the DHS budget-in-brief for FY 2006.
But evidently the Washington Post thought differently, writing about it in today’s edition:
The federal government disclosed details yesterday of a border-security program to screen all people who enter and leave the United States, create a terrorism risk profile of each individual and retain that information for up to 40 years.
The details, released in a notice published yesterday in the Federal Register, open a new window on the government’s broad and often controversial data-collection effort directed at American and foreign travelers, which was implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
While long known to scrutinize air travelers, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to apply new technology to perform similar checks on people who enter or leave the country “by automobile or on foot,” the notice said.
The department intends to use a program called the Automated Targeting System, originally designed to screen shipping cargo, to store and analyze the data.
Reading the Federal Register notice again, it’s unclear to me whether the third paragraph of the story is a correct interpretation of the notice. The notice indicates that risk assessments are based on a number of sources, including “existing information” about “persons crossing the United States land border by automobile or on foot.” I read that as saying that DHS using land border crossing data as an input to risk assessment for international entry by air, not conducting that same type of risk assessment at land borders. Hopefully DHS will clarify this point so that there’s a firm understanding of the roles and scope of the system.