Privacy Groups Voice Concern Over DHS Watchlist Proposal

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and a coalition of privacy, consumer rights, and civil rights organizations have issued a statement of opposition to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently proposed new department-wide system of records notice to the Terrorist Screening Database.

DHS solicited comments on the new program in a notice on the Federal Register dated July 6th, which said “Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes to establish a new system of records titled, DHS/ALL-030 Use of the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) System of Records. DHS is maintaining a mirror copy of the Department of Justice (DOJ)/Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)-019 Terrorist Screening Records System of Records  in order to automate and simplify the current method for transmitting the TSDB to DHS and its components.”

“DHS and the FBI/TSC, working together,” the document added, “ have developed the DHS Watchlist Service (WLS) in order to automate and simplify the current method for transmitting TSDB records from the FBI/TSC to DHS and its components. The WLS allows the FBI/TSC and DHS to move away from a manual and cumbersome process of data transmissionand management to an automated and centralized process. The WLS will replace multiple data feeds from the FBI/TSC to DHS and its components, as documented by information sharing agreements, with a single feed from the FBI/TSC to DHS and its components. The WLS is a system to system secure connection with no direct user interface.”

The new system of records would contain names, dates of birth, places of birth, biometrics and photographic data, passport information, driver’s license information, and "other available identifying particulars."

EPIC and other coalition groups objected in particular to DHS proposals to exempt portions of the system of records from one or more provisions of the Privacy Act because of criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement requirements.  These include “the obligation to maintain all government records pertaining to an individual with such  accuracy, relevance, timeliness, and completeness as is reasonably necessary to assure fairness to the individual and  the obligation only to maintain records about individuals when relevant and necessary or a government agency to accomplish an authorized purpose.”

“DHS should suspend the proposal pending a full review of the privacy, security, and legal implications of the program, including compliance with the federal Privacy Act,” the statement said. “If the agency proceeds with the WLS program, the system must, at a minimum: (1) adhere to  Congress’s intent to maintain transparent and secure government recordkeeping systems; (2) provide individuals judicially enforceable rights of notice, access, and correction; (3) conform to a revised SORN and NPRM that includes requirements for the agency to respect individuals."

"Secretive government lists without any meaningful safeguards present a very real risk of ‘mission creep,’ " the statement added.

In its proposal DHS said that exemptions from the Privacy Act were needed “to protect information relating to DHS activities from disclosure to subjects or others related to these activities.”

“Specifically," it said, “ the exemptions are required to preclude subjects of these activities from frustrating these processes. Disclosure of information to the subject of the inquiry could also permit the subject to avoid detection or apprehension.”  

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