retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials[, the Washington Post reported].John Gilmore, a civil liberties activist in San Francisco whose records were requested on his behalf by The Identity Project, accused the feds of "trying to build a surveillance society," especially after discovering that his own file
The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. ...
The Automated Targeting System has been used to screen passengers since the mid-1990s, but the collection of data for it has been greatly expanded and automated since 2002, according to former DHS officials.
included a note from a Customs and Border Patrol officer that he carried the marijuana-related book "Drugs and Your Rights."Officials from the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland insisted the government is not interested in travelers' reading habit. Really, they mean it. Really. In the words of spokesman Russ Knocke,
We are completely uninterested in the latest Tom Clancy novel that the traveler may be reading.Apparently, though, if your reading habits run to something a bit more unusual than right-wing Cold War potboilers, well, that's different.
Knocke said, "if there is some indication based upon the behavior or an item in the traveler's possession that leads the inspection officer to conclude there could be a possible violation of the law, it is the front-line officer's duty to further scrutinize the traveler." Once that happens, Knocke said, "it is not uncommon for the officer to document interactions with a traveler that merited additional scrutiny."Which means, if it means anything at all, that having a book about the legal aspects of drug use is an "indication" of a violation of "narcotics" laws legitimately provoking a "document[ed] interaction."
He said that he is not familiar with the file that mentions Gilmore's book about drug rights, but that generally "front-line officers have a duty to enforce all laws within our authority, for example, the counter-narcotics mission." [Emphasis added.]
What's more, not just what you read but what you write can be of considerable interest to the protectors of all that is good and decent, and not just if you're a software salesman-novelist on a plane:
Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter ... has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about "politically charged" opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, "they had them printed out on the table in front of me."The so-called "passenger name record" (PNR) information stored in the DHS database - and often provided to airlines and other companies when reservations are made - are extensive. They routinely include name, address, credit card info, telephone number, email, itinerary, hotel and rental car reservations, and even the type of bed requested in a hotel. And, we're now learning, they may contain much more besides, including your race, your profession, where and with who you have traveled, contact phone numbers, and even the name of your travel agent along with alternate itineraries the agent may have examined.
Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for over 15 years,
said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. "It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous," he said. "If you sat next to someone once, that's a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that's a relationship."In an unintentionally revealing statement, Stewart Verdery, formerly a top official at DHS, said the data
should be considered "an investigative tool, just the way we do with law enforcement, who take records of things for future purposes when they need to figure out where people came from, what they were carrying and who they are associated with. That type of information is extremely valuable when you're trying to thread together a plot or you're trying to clean up after an attack."Or, put more bluntly, it's a data vacuum aimed at gathering and storing as much data on as many people as possible just in case they might want to use it later because, ultimately, everyone's a suspect.
Footnote: The Identity Project explains how you can request a copy of your own DHS travel dossier here.
Updated with some links, some additional sorts of information that might be in a file, and the Footnote.