Virtually every person entering and leaving the United States by air, sea or land is scored by the Homeland Security Department's Automated Targeting System, or ATS. The scores are based on ATS' analysis of their travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered...
Government officials could not say whether ATS has apprehended any terrorists. Based on all the information available to them, federal agents turn back about 45 foreign criminals a day at U.S. borders, according to Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection spokesman Bill Anthony. He could not say how many were spotted by ATS.
Of course this is just another one of George Bush's attacks on civil liberties, right? Not quite.
ATS was first used to rate the risk posed by travelers in the late 1990s, using personal information about them voluntarily supplied by air and cruise lines. (emphasis mine--Darren)
A post-9/11 law vastly expanded the program, he said. It required airline and cruise companies to begin in 2002 sending the government electronic data in advance on all passengers and crew bound into or out of the country. All these names are put through ATS analysis, Ahern said. In addition, at land border crossings, agents enter license plates and the names of vehicle drivers and passengers, and Amtrak voluntarily supplies passenger data on its trains to and from Canada, he said.
It apparently didn't work too well pre-9/11, and I'm glad the expanded program's being used now. For all those people who were complaining that the pre-9/11 government didn't "connect the dots"--well, these are some of the dots they need to connect.
Then there's this story, about a backscatter x-ray machine that does what we were all promised in those little ads in the back of the comic books as kids: x-ray vision allowing you to see through clothes!
Yep, they're gonna be checking me out, all right. Some privacy specialists are concerned that this will provide fodder for YouTube for years to come. Here are the key points:
But the TSA said the X-rays will be set up so that the image can be viewed only by a security officer in a remote location. Other passengers, and even the agent at the checkpoint, will not have access to the picture.
I'm not sure that's good, for the YouTube reason mentioned above. And then:
In addition, the system will be configured so that the X-ray will be deleted as soon as the individual steps away from the machine. It will not be stored or available for printing or transmitting, agency spokesman Nico Melendez said.
We'll see what happens.
Update, 2/23/07: The X-Ray machine has arrived.
(AP) -- The Phoenix airport on Friday became the first in the United States to test new X-ray technology that can see through people's clothes and show the body's contours with blush-inducing clarity.
Critics have said the high-resolution images created by the "backscatter" technology are too invasive. But the Transportation Security Administration adjusted the equipment so the pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still detecting concealed weapons.
During the testing, the machine will be used only as a back-up screening measure. Passengers who fail the standard screening with a metal detector will be able to choose between the new device or a pat-down search...
Passengers selected for screening by the device are asked to stand in front of the closet-size X-ray unit with the palms of their hands facing out. Then they must turn around for a second screening from behind. The procedure takes about a minute...
The security officer who works with the passenger going through the screening will never see the images the machine produces. The pictures will be viewed by another officer about 50 feet away who will not see the passenger, the TSA said.
The machine cannot store the images or transmit them.
A full minute? Even if only a half a minute per passenger, that's too much time. They've got to fix that.