DHS Proposes Secret Watchlist Database, Privacy Groups Protest

The Department of Homeland Security is planning to duplicate the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database to expand an extensive database called Watchlist Service — and no one can know if they’re on the list

Greenpeace’s nonviolent protests were considered «Acts of Terrorism,» and were placed on the FBI watchlist (Source: greenpeace.org)

Privacy is a major concern in today’s day and age, whether regulators are calling Facebook out on its invasive features like facial recognition or consumers are worrying about new camera technology like license plate recognition and red light camera.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is giving the American people a whole new list of worries in the realm of privacy. According to recent reports, DHS is planning to duplicate the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database to expand an extensive database called Watchlist Service, which will include names, birthdays, photos and biometrics of the accused. The new watchlist will combine four different DHS systems of records including IDENT, which is managed by the US-VISIT Program; Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS), which is managed by Custom and Border Protection (CBP) Passenger Systems Program Office; Transportation Security Threat Assessment System managed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the TSA’s Secure Flight Records.

The problem is that the DHS has proposed to exempt the Watchlist Service from Privacy Act provisions, which means that a person will never know if they are listed.

The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database has been inaccurate in the past, listing people in the database wrongfully. In fact, the FBI improperly spied on peace groups such as Greenpeace, and categorized their nonviolent acts of civil disobedience as «Acts of Terrorism.»

With DHS creating a consolidated watchlist database for increased government access, more names are likely to be placed on the list. But people will not be allowed to see the list or know if they have been wrongfully placed on this list.

DHS has proposed the exemption from Privacy Act provisions because of «criminal, civil and administrative enforcement requirements.» Now, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has led several privacy groups and civil rights organizations to protest the new DHS plan.

EPIC and its coalition of privacy groups have filed a statement that says that DHS’ Watchlist Service tries to «circumvent» privacy protections covered by the Privacy Act. Also, the statement mentions that DHS has admitted that it does not control the accuracy of information in these records, and individuals do not have the opportunity to decline information. The 1974 Privacy Act requires DHS to let subjects know when they are under government surveillance, and to provide «a meaningful opportunity to correct information that could negatively affect them.»

The privacy groups are also concerned about mission creep, which is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals.

«Under this proposal, the agency would have the right to maintain and rely upon information it does not know to be accurate, relevant, timely, or complete without recourse — the right to subject citizens to arbitrary decisions.»

This proposal could harm the reputations of innocent citizens. For instance, SHTF Plan calculated that the number of people added to the no-fly list and terrorist watchlists doubles each year. According to these calculations, there will be 550,000,000 people on the watchlist by 2019 and by 2023, the watchlist will exceed the world’s population — basically saying that the U.S. government may restrict air travel altogether.

«DHS’ approach twists the purpose of the Privacy Act exemptions almost beyond recognition,» said Gavin Baker from OMB Watch. «Exemptions should be limited to the time when they’re needed, and not under active investigation. This isn’t necessary to protect the integrity of investigations, and it invites abuses.»

DailyTech – DHS Proposes Secret Watchlist Database, Privacy Groups Protest.

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