Saturday, December 02, 2006

What's your terror risk assessment?

No, I'm not asking for your assessment of the risk of terror, I'm asking what the official assessment of the risk that you are a terrorist.

Don't know your risk assessment, or ATS (Automated Targeting System), score? The government does. Well, at least, they do if you travel into or out of the U.S. Your assessment computed based on such factors as where you are from, how you paid for your tickets, your motor vehicle records, your history of one-way travel, your seating preference, and what kind of meal you ordered.

So, if you paid cash for your one-way ticket, asked for a seat up front and a Kosher meal, you might just find yourself stopped at the gate, pulled out for extra questioning, and possibly barred from traveling completely (the new system covers air, land, and sea transportation).

This is different than the previous lists we've heard of, filled with miss-spelled names of "known" terrorists. These watch lists have kept infants with suspicious names from boarding flights in the past. But to barred from flying now, they don't need to already know your name. You just need to match the correct profile.

And don't bother asking Homeland Security for a copy of your assessment. You're not allowed to see it. It's a state secret and a matter of national security. Your score is available, however, to any government agency or private contractor who's thinking of hiring you needs to persuaded not to. But they don't have to tell you that the ATS assessment is why you lost the job. That would be a breach of national security.

"Never before in American history has our government gotten into the business of creating mass 'risk assessment' ratings of its own citizens," said Barry Steinhardt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the under-statement of the year.

Oh, and we may be just learning about the ATS assessments now, but they're nothing new. The system was developed in the 1990's, and all airlines and cruise companies have been required to "send the government electronic data in advance on all passengers and crew bound into or out of the country" since 2002.

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