is a major concern in today's day and age, whether regulators are calling
Facebook out on its invasive features like facial recognition or
consumers are worrying about new camera technology like license
plate recognition and red light camera.
Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is giving the American people a
whole new list of worries in the realm of privacy. According to recent reports, DHS
is planning to duplicate the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database to expand an
extensive database called Watchlist Service, which will include names,
birthdays, photos and biometrics of the accused. The new watchlist will combine
four different DHS systems of records including IDENT, which is managed by the
US-VISIT Program; Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS), which is
managed by Custom and Border Protection (CBP) Passenger Systems Program Office;
Transportation Security Threat Assessment System managed by the Transportation
Security Administration (TSA), and the TSA's Secure Flight Records.
The problem is that the DHS has proposed to exempt the Watchlist Service from
Privacy Act provisions, which means that a person will never know if they are
The FBI's Terrorist Screening Database has been inaccurate in the past, listing
people in the database wrongfully. In fact, the FBI improperly
spied on peace groups such as Greenpeace, and categorized their
nonviolent acts of civil disobedience as "Acts of Terrorism."
With DHS creating a consolidated watchlist database for increased government
access, more names are likely to be placed on the list. But people will not be
allowed to see the list or know if they have been wrongfully placed on this
DHS has proposed the exemption from Privacy Act provisions because of
"criminal, civil and administrative enforcement requirements." Now,
the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has led several privacy groups
and civil rights organizations to protest the new DHS plan.
EPIC and its coalition of privacy groups have filed a statement that says that
DHS' Watchlist Service tries to "circumvent" privacy protections
covered by the Privacy Act. Also, the statement mentions that DHS has admitted
that it does not control the accuracy of information in these records, and
individuals do not have the opportunity to decline information. The 1974
Privacy Act requires DHS to let subjects know when they are under government
surveillance, and to provide "a meaningful opportunity to correct
information that could negatively affect them."
The privacy groups are also concerned about mission creep, which is the
expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals.
"Under this proposal, the agency would have the right to maintain and rely
upon information it does not know to be accurate, relevant, timely, or complete
without recourse -- the right to subject citizens to arbitrary decisions."
This proposal could harm the reputations of innocent citizens. For instance, SHTF Plan calculated
that the number of people added to the no-fly list and terrorist watchlists
doubles each year. According to these calculations, there will be 550,000,000
people on the watchlist by 2019 and by 2023, the watchlist will exceed the
world's population -- basically saying that the U.S. government may restrict
air travel altogether.
"DHS' approach twists the purpose of the Privacy Act exemptions almost
beyond recognition," said Gavin Baker from OMB Watch. "Exemptions should be limited
to the time when they're needed, and not under active investigation. This isn't
necessary to protect the integrity of investigations, and it invites