EFF sues DHS over risk assessment data collection

Lawsuit wants to know how DHS is addressing privacy, security concerns in program that creates risk assessments based on commercial databases.

The Department of Homeland Security's Automated Targeting System (ATS) has come under fire after a notice in the Federal Register revealed that the agency was creating "risk assessments" of air travelers.

The latest fuel on that fire is a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the department, demanding all information about the program, which the progressive legal organization calls "invasive," Infoworld reports.

The program, as described, would track tens of millions of travelers, including U.S. citizens, the EFF said. "Individuals have no right to access information about themselves contained in the system, nor request correction of information that is inaccurate, irrelevant, untimely or incomplete," EFF lawyers David Sobel and Marcia Hofmann wrote in their complaint, filed Tuesday in the district court.

DHS' notice reveals that the government will retain this information for 40 years and EFF charges the data will be made available to "untold" numbers of federal, state, local and foreign agencies, the EFF said.

"You don't know what information that assessment comes from," Hofmann said. "You don't know how that information will be used against you."

While the notice was just published, the program has been screening passengers since the mid-90s. The notice, according to a DHS spokesman, was merely an attempt to be transparent about what has been going on for some time.

The ATS program for cargo coming into the U.S. has been in place since the early 1990s, and its passenger screening capabilities since the mid-'90s, said DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen. DHS, which was created in March 2003, published the Federal Register notice about the program now after reviewing ATS and finding it had not yet been disclosed to the public, Agen said.

EFF wants to see DHS procedures for handling disputes, proof that the program has actually resulted in arrests, and records of complaints. The lawyers also want to know how DHS oversees errors in its databases and how it secures the data.

"DHS needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this 'risk assessment' score that will follow them throughout their lives," the EFF's Sobel said in a statement.