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Tech Notes

Lawsuit Demands Answers About Government's Secret 'Risk Assessment' Scores
Dec 19, 2006 - 5:34:37 PM

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The FLAG Project at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in federal court today, demanding immediate answers about an invasive and unprecedented data-mining system deployed on American travelers.

The Automated Targeting System (ATS) creates and assigns "risk assessments" to tens of millions of citizens as they enter and leave the country. In November, DHS announced that the program would launch on December 4, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff later admitted that the program had already been in operation for several years.

"The news of this secret program sparked a nationwide uproar. DHS needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this 'risk assessment' score that will follow them throughout their lives," said EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel.

Under ATS, individuals have no way to access information about their "risk assessment" scores or to correct any false information about them. But while you cannot see your score, it will be made readily available to untold numbers of federal, state, local, and foreign agencies. The government will retain the data for 40 years.

While the publicly available information about ATS is disturbing enough, there are many critical details the government did not disclose. For example, DHS has not announced what the consequences might be of a "risk assessment" score that indicates an individual might be a threat. EFF's suit demands an urgent and expedited response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed earlier this month, including all Privacy Impact Assessments for the ATS, all records that describe redress for individuals who believe the system includes inaccurate information, and all records that discuss potential consequences for travelers as a result of the system.

"ATS is precisely the sort of system that Congress sought to prohibit with the Privacy Act of 1974," said Sobel. "DHS needs to abide by the law and give Americans the information they deserve about this dangerous program."

Congressional leaders have indicated that they are likely to convene hearings on the ATS when the new Congress convenes in January. Today's lawsuit cites that pending oversight as an additional reason why DHS must release details about the system on an expedited basis.

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