The U.S. Automated Targeting System, or ATS, a computerized program that collects personal data on travelers and retains it for up to 40 years, has come under fire in recent weeks from rights activists who say it violates privacy laws and a congressional-funding ban.
But Stewart Baker, assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said the system’s critics are either “paranoid” or don’t understand that ATS assigns risk ratings only to cargo.
“We have risk scores for cargo,” Baker told a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
“I don’t think that we’re scoring human beings, and we’re certainly not keeping score on them,” he said. “We do an assessment of people when we look at the data. But that could vary from flight to flight, day to day.”
I’ve maintained since this story started to break in early November that the concerns about this program have been overstated by its recent critics, and I’m glad to see DHS finally pushing back and defending the program. There needs to be more clarity about how ATS-P works and how information is saved and stored within it, but it clearly has a valid role within the broader border and traveler entry system, and is worthy of a vigorous defense.
Update (12/21): Here are Baker’s remarks from the CSIS event.
Update (12/29): The full transcript from the CSIS event is available here.