Homeland Security weighs privacy rights

Perhaps embarrassed by outgoing chief Tom Ridge’s admission that the color coded terror alert was raised for political reasons (USA Today, May 10), the Homeland Security Department appears to be slowing in some of its most egregious (or ambitious) new programs. Plans to require 27 allied countries to issue new passports with chips encoded with biometric data have been put off for a year, although by this October they will have to start issuing passports with tamperproof digitized photos. Allied governments had protested the chip-embedded passports, and Homeland Security may be rethinking the idea. (AP, June 16)

Two U.S. government oversight groups are also said to be checking whether travelers’ privacy was violated by Homeland Security`s passenger screening program. Homeland Security’s own Privacy Office and the Government Accountability Office have expressed unease about the program, the Washington Post reported June 16, although neither group would reveal specific concerns. Homeland Security has been testing “Secure Flight,” which uses information supplied by airlines and some financial data to verify passengers’ identity and limit the number of people misidentified as being on the government’s “no fly” list. Some privacy groups have complained that information culled from commercial data has been misused. A Homeland Security official told the Post the department has met with Congress, privacy groups and others to go over the program. (UPI, June 16)

In more ominous news, the National Retail Federation has announced its participation in the Homeland Security Information Network-Critical Infrastructure (HSIN-CI), designed to “communicate real-time information about potential terror threats” (i.e. suspicious buying habits) to the Department. (National Jewler, June 16)

See our last post on the changes at Homeland Security.