Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Government Watch List Mania Continues

It has recently come to light that the Department of Homeland Security has been compiling and using yet another secret "watch list" of US citizens and others, and assigning each individual a score of some sort. No one outside of the brainiacs who develop and maintain the system know what information is being used with which to assign a "terrorist" index, or whatever, to each person; you have no way of knowing the accuracy of either the information going into the computerized database or of the score thus assigned that emerges from the "black box." Privacy problems with earlier such watch lists led the Congress to prohibit the DHS from from continuing the practice, at least until the serious privacy problems already identified with earlier versions fo the lists had been corrected.

The DHS has an interesting response to concerns that this latest watch list effort may be a violation of the legal prohibition against the DHS using such mechanisms. The Secretary apparently believes that the congrssional prohibition notwithstanding, simply because Department officials have given speeches about watch lists, and because a few members of Congress have been briefed on it that this latest watch list, known as the "Automated Targeting System" or "ATS," is okay.

This is a lovely new defense that criminals can now rely on, I suppose: even if you do something that is prohibited by law, so long as you describe for a few people in very general terms what you are doing, then it's okay! Is this a great country, or what?

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