ACLU Says DHS Privacy Office Probe on TSA's Handling of Consumer Data Confirms Fears About Government Abuse of Databases

June 16, 2005 12:00 am

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Statement of Barry Steinhardt
Director, ACLU Technology and Liberty Project

NEW YORK — The revelation that the Chief Privacy Officer of the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the possible violation of the Privacy Act by the Transportation Security Agency confirms what the American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocates have been saying about the problems with entrusting the government with large amounts of personal data on millions of innocent American travelers.

Although we still lack details on the latest incident, it serves as a reminder that we should always be hesitant to turn over the records of our innocent activities to DHS and other security agencies. TSA has a spotty record when it comes to securing personally identifiable information and properly following even our existing weak privacy laws. In addition, the historical record shows that over time security agency officials are all too frequently tempted to misuse information for political or their own personal purposes.

The irregularities apparently happened during the testing of the “Secure Flight” airline passenger profiling program. Among the elements of Secure Flight being tested is the use of personal data on individuals provided by commercial data aggregators. These data companies compile information on the characteristics, activities and transactions of innocent individuals into comprehensive dossiers.

With the government gaining access to more and more of our personal data, we need to be especially vigilant in protecting the privacy of Americans. The current incident, whatever details ultimately emerge about it, should serve as a reminder of that fact.

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