Saturday, December 02, 2006

Millions assigned terror risk score on trips to the US

Millions of people are being assigned a risk assessment score designed to identify their terrorist potential as they enter the US, including the US's own citizens. The information is garnered from several US departments, including intelligence, and is to be held on file for forty years.

This system, known as ATS, was initially applied to cargo but has now been widened to include persons.

The Department of Homeland Security said it was putting out information about the profiling system as part of its commitment to open government. ATS is "one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world" it said, with the primary purpose of "targeting, identifying, and preventing potential terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the US".

This is a typical over-reaction from the Bush administration and a further curtailment of civil liberties, most especially the right to privacy, with the government amassing even more information about it's citizens.

"This is a tremendously significant deal. It means the federal government has secretly assigned a terrorist rating to tens of millions of US citizens," said Marc Tenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.

David Sobel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Associated Press: "It's probably the most invasive system the government has yet deployed in terms of the number of people affected."

Nor can we take much comfort from the claim that this is "one of the most advanced systems in the world".

I have already reported on the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who the US government sent to Syria to be tortured.

Mr Arar, who was suspected of terrorist involvement - though he was guilty of none - was shipped to Syria for the very reason that there was not enough evidence to charge him. In other words, "they'll get him to talk".

In their attempts to get him to talk the Syrian authorities kept him for ten months in a cell slightly larger than a coffin and regularly beat him with metal bars.

And how was the mistake made?
This entire sorry case took place because Mr Arar met with Abdullah Almalki, a man already under surveillance by a newly formed Mounted Police intelligence unit known as Project A-O Canada. It now transpires that the two men discussed where to buy low cost ink jet printer cartridges.
Within any system there will always be inevitable errors. In Mr Arar's case it was an unfortunate meeting. However, now that we are all being assigned terrorist ratings - without ever having taken part in any suspicious meetings - the chance of wrongful arrest and imprisonment increases enormously.

In the case of such an error we can all look forward to the kind of treatment that was meted out to an Oregon lawyer, wrongfully arrested under suspicion of having taken part in the Madrid bombings:
“The days, weeks and months following my arrest,” he said, “were some of the darkest we have had to endure. I personally was subject to lockdown, strip searches, sleep deprivation, unsanitary living conditions, shackles and chains, threats, physical pain and humiliation.

Despite doubts from Spanish officials about the validity of the fingerprint match, American officials began an aggressive high-level investigation into Mr. Mayfield in the weeks after the bombings. . . .

Using expanded surveillance powers under the USA Patriot Act, the government wiretapped his conversations, conducted secret searches of his home and his law office and jailed him for two weeks as a material witness in the case before a judge threw out the case against him.
The US have just announced plans to compensate Mr Mayfield to the tune of $2 million which gives us some idea of the treatment that he must have suffered at their hands.

Under this new ATS system, it would appear that we are all suspects now. How long will silly right wingers continue with their rant that, "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear"?

Under this creeping totalitarianism, the risk of any of us being mistakenly confused with someone else has significantly increased. And, as the mistakes highlighted here amply demonstrate, under such a system, we all have much to fear.

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