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November 3, 2006
More Serious About Border Security?

The Washington Post reports that the US intends on screening every person who enters the country, regardless of method, in an attempt to identify potential terrorists. The new program will use the data to build terrorist profiles and will retain the data for decades:

The federal government disclosed details yesterday of a border-security program to screen all people who enter and leave the United States, create a terrorism risk profile of each individual and retain that information for up to 40 years.

The details, released in a notice published yesterday in the Federal Register, open a new window on the government's broad and often controversial data-collection effort directed at American and foreign travelers implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

While long known to scrutinize air travelers, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to apply new technology to perform similar checks on people who enter or leave the country "by automobile or on foot," the notice said.

The department intends to use a program called the Automated Targeting System, originally designed to screen shipping cargo, to store and analyze such data.

"We have been doing risk assessments of cargo and passengers coming into and out of the U.S.," DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen said. "We have the authority and the ability to do it for passengers coming by land and sea."

More than five years after 9/11, one might have thought the DHS would already have done this. However, getting the resources in place took some time, and as the article shows, the enthusiasm for screening every person at the border is somewhat less than universal. Civil libertarians have objected to the new program, claiming that it treats "ordinary citizens" as terrorist suspects.

One of the primary tasks for the federal government, though, is the defense of the nation and the monitoring of the borders. It is entirely appropriate to conduct evaluations of people crossing the border in order to determine their potential for danger. In fact, it's one of the few police duties that finds its basis in the Constitution. The point is not to treat all entrants to the US as terror suspects, but rather to take ordinary security precautions -- precautions that we shrugged off before 9/11 to our peril.

The program looks somewhat like a data-mining system that uses a points system to flag individuals with enough indicators of trouble for further investigation. In this way, it bears similarities to the Israeli airport security program, which uses highly trained interrogators to speak at least briefly with each traveler. Only when enough indicators of untruthfulness pop up do they perform a full security search on the individual, and then only to keep them talking. The US wants to take that system a little further, in building a database of all reviews to determine from whom and where the highest scores come in order to profile better in the future. If this works properly, it should become a self-improving program with each new piece of information that gets added to the database.

There may be some question as to whether DHS has the resources to implement such a plan. The Post quotes Stephen Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations saying that Customs can barely keep up with their data now. If so, then Congress needs to allocate the proper funding for border security in order to allow DHS to do its job.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 3, 2006 6:19 AM

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Tracked on November 3, 2006 9:31 AM


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