Privacy SOS

Welcome to the USA, data subject!

It’s official. That is what you are in the age of Total Information Awareness. And the Department of Homeland Security has your back.

Or so we are told by the DHS’ Privacy Office in its 2011 Data Mining Report to Congress, issued in February 2012. The DHS Report describes the many components of ATS (Automated Targeting System), AFI (Analytic Framework for Intelligence), DARTTS (Data Analysis and Research for Trade Transparency System), and FAS (Freight Assessment System) and assures Congress that your personal privacy is very much on its mind.

Here is some sample language:

“ATS relies on its source systems to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the data they provide to ATS…When corrections are made to data in source systems, ATS updates this information immediately and uses only the latest data…In the event that PII (such as certain data within a PNR) used by or maintained in ATS-P is believed by the data subject to be inaccurate, a redress process has been developed….”


PII = Personally Identifiable Information

PNR = Passenger Name Record

ATS-P = ATS Passenger Module

Data Subject = you or me

One problem:

The source systems that are relied on to provide accurate data include the National Crime Information Center (which shrugs off responsibility for ensuring accuracy), Automated Manifest System, Automated Export System, Automated Commercial System, Electronic System for Travel Information, Nonimmigrant Information System, Border Crossing Information, Student Exchange Visitor Information System, Advance Passenger Information System – for a start. So how to nose out that inaccurate data?

The solution:

The redress process. “CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officers have a brochure available to each individual entering and departing from the United States that provides CBP’s Pledge to Travelers. This Pledge gives each traveler the opportunity to speak with a passenger service representative.” Good luck!

Really persistent Data Subjects who pursue the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program just might eventually get access to ATS information. How to find the source and drive a stake through the heart of the inaccurate data is not addressed.

Meanwhile, lots of other people and not just CBP officers have access to all that information about all of us Data Subjects. But don’t worry about your privacy – they all need clearance and “are required to complete annual training in privacy awareness and must pass an examination.”

Let’s hope they are better at passing exams without cheating than the FBI.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.