The TSA is checking out all passengers long before they face the dreaded lines at airport screening checkpoints -- using controversial data mining without the consent or knowledge of future flyers according to a New York Times article on Tuesday.
Several agencies housed in the United States Department of Homeland Security, including the TSA have been employing mass data mining as a tool to monitor suspected terrorists and other criminals long before airline customers reach the airport.
The most recent TSA pre-screening efforts are not associated with the Global Entry program and the domestic Pre-Check program, in which airline passengers are required to submit applications and fingerprints, a level of disclosure that some critics consider invasive. In return, those passengers are eligible for expedited lines.
The invasive measures also go beyond the Secure Flight program's routine background checks in which a passenger’s name, gender and date of birth are compared with terrorist watch lists.
Much of the personal data obtained by the TSA is widely shared within the Department of Homeland Security and with other government agencies. TSA officials insist the data collecting is crucial in its efforts to keep travelers safe.
So, what information is the stored in these massive databases? Tax identification numbers, old travel plans, property records and even physical characteristics. The personal information is shared among government agencies and often combined with other information on record elsewhere, including intelligence maintained by the likes of debt collectors and other private agencies whose profits depend on digging up personal information.
Security documents leaked to the media by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the United States government is accumulating information from airline reservation systems and social media sites for information gathering on travelers, both domestically and abroad.
Privacy notices for these databases note that the information may be shared with federal, state and local authorities; foreign governments; law enforcement and intelligence agencies — and in some cases, private companies for purposes unrelated to security or travel.
For instance, an update about the TSA's Transportation Security Enforcement Record System, which contains information about travelers accused of "violations or potential violations" of security regulations, warns that the records may be shared with "a debt collection agency for the purpose of debt collection."
The TSA's expanded effort stems from a U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Automated Targeting System database that screens travelers entering the United States.
Expansion of the program to randomly selected low-risk passengers is in keeping with the goal of TSA Administrator John S. Pistole to redirect his agency’s focus toward those who appear to pose the greatest threat.
“It’s our philosophy that one size doesn’t fit everybody,” Salvator said. “When TSA was stood up after 9/11, we treated everybody the same. We’re trying to move off that model and use a risk-based approach and the intelligence we have developed over the years.”
Civil rights groups have warned of the far reaching implications of mass data mining "dumps" that began surfacing after 9/11.
Nationwide, at least 72 fusion centers were created in response to the 9/11 Commission report's recommendation to improve information sharing of terrorism intelligence at the federal, state and localmlevels of government.
However, critics argue that fusion centers have mostly used the federal grants to fight local crime.
Opponents of mass data mining argue that information entered into databases is at the discretion of the analyst. For example, Virginia's historic black colleges were labeled as possible threats and a Wisconsin fusion center analyst targeted abortion protestors as a threat to public safety.
In October, 2012, an investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on fusion centers found that the centers had directly violated constitutionally protected civil liberties.
“In reality, the Subcommittee investigation found that the fusion centers often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever,” the report stated.
Critics also say the downside of millions get security clearance could result in PreCheck lines as long as regular lines.