DHS datamining is digging deeper into our personal lives than we ever knew. If you travel out of the country, chances are DHS has a dossier on you that they intend to keep for at least 15 years. If you're friends with someone who travels, chances are you're named in their dossier.
The DHS database generally includes "passenger name record" (PNR) information, as well as notes taken during secondary screenings of travelers. PNR data -- often provided to airlines and other companies when reservations are made -- routinely include names, addresses and credit-card information, as well as telephone and e-mail contact details, itineraries, hotel and rental car reservations, and even the type of bed requested in a hotel.
This story hits close to home for me as this guy is a friend of mine.
"The federal government is trying to build a surveillance society," said John Gilmore, a civil liberties activist in San Francisco whose records were requested by the Identity Project, an ad-hoc group of privacy advocates in California and Alaska. The government, he said, "may be doing it with the best or worst of intentions. . . . But the job of building a surveillance database and populating it with information about us is happening largely without our awareness and without our consent."
Gilmore's file, which he provided to The Washington Post, included a note from a Customs and Border Patrol officer that he carried the marijuana-related book "Drugs and Your Rights." "My first reaction was I kind of expected it," Gilmore said. "My second reaction was, that's illegal."
And she's a friend of mine too.
Ann Harrison, the communications director for a technology firm in Silicon Valley who was among those who obtained their personal files and provided them to The Post, said she was taken aback to see that her dossier contained data on her race and on a European flight that did not begin or end in the United States or connect to a U.S.-bound flight.
DHS of course, couches the need for the program in terms of fighting terrorism.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in August 2006 said that "if we learned anything from Sept. 11, 2001, it is that we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information. After Sept. 11, we used credit-card and telephone records to identify those linked with the hijackers. But wouldn't it be better to identify such connections before a hijacker boards a plane?" Chertoff said that comparing PNR data with intelligence on terrorists lets the government "identify unknown threats for additional screening" and helps avoid "inconvenient screening of low-risk travelers."
Well here's the thing. I've known John and Ann for years. John was instrumental in the founding of EFF and I recently exchanged emails with him over his suit against Ashcroft that SCOTUS refused to hear in the last session. I expect I might be listed in his dossier. None of us are terrorists. In fact, we couldn't be lower-risk travelers. There is zero chance that we are going to cause harm to our fellow Americans. But we are political activists and dissenters against government excess.
I don't travel much myself anymore but John and Ann do and they're routinely singled out for increased scrutiny. This database has little to do with terrorism and much to do with the suppression of political speech and intimidating dissenters. And people wonder why I keep warning about the impending police state?
Update: On a lighter note, Cookie Jill wants to save DHS some time and lists her PNR info. Thus inspired, I'll do the same.
When I do travel, I generally travel alone and go either to the beach or to visit old friends and lovers. Preferring to travel light, I don't carry books. I usually buy America's McPaper, the USA Today, to read on the plane. I carry obscenely expensive hair conditioner with me. Most everything else I buy at my destination. Oh, and I nearly always purchase an in flight cocktail. I love those cute little nips.