NEWS

U.S. Tracking Citizens' Border Crossings

By Laura Spadanuta

The Washington Post reports that the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed a database that is a record citizen border crossings.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection started logging arrivals of U.S. citizens this year, both by scanning machine-readable identification and by manually logging people into the database.  The database, called the Border Crossing Information system, will officially go into effect on Monday.

The article says the information will be stored by the government for 15 years, and it can be used in criminal and intelligence investigations, as well as in civil litigation.  Additionally, " information may be shared with foreign agencies when relevant to their hiring or contracting decisions."

The database will link to another database (the Non-Federal Entity Data System) that will hold personal information about drivers in state databases, according to the article. 

In the notice, the government states that the program has authorization from such acts as the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002, the Aviation and Transporation Security Act of 2001, and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.  Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, disagrees:

Nojeim said that though the statutes authorize the government to issue travel documents and check immigration status, he does not believe they explicitly authorize creation of the database.  "This database is, in a sense, worse than a watch list," he said. "At least in the watch-list scenario, there's some reason why the name got on the list. Here, the only thing a person does to come to the attention of DHS is to lawfully cross the border. The theory of this data collection is: Track everyone -- just in case."

The Washington Post notes that travelers can ask to access their records, but DHS is proposing to exempt the database from some provisions of the 1974 Privacy Act, "including the right of a citizen to know whether a law enforcement or intelligence agency has requested his or her records and the right to sue for access and correction in those disclosures."

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