Uh-oh! Big Brother just got bigger

by Charlie Leocha on May 30, 2008

Last summer I warned America should be concerned with new homeland security regulations because they were creating a secret watch list of passenger information. Now, with these new regulations vetted and barely protested, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is starting to do what it promised: share the data with other governments.

Information that we can’t review, compiled from sources that will remain anonymous, and shared secretly with other governments’ security services is collecting in a giant Big Brother database that ultimately will ensnare U.S. citizens as well as the foreign nationals it was created to target.

The game is afoot. The U.S. and German governments have announced that they are sharing biometric data. But don’t worry. This date is only collected about terrorists, foreign terrorists specifically, we are told.
The official line offered by law enforcement officials was

“The agreement further provides a mechanism for sharing information about known and suspected terrorists, so we can prevent them from entering our countries and attacking our people,” U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said in a statement. “But beyond the important practical value of this agreement, it symbolizes the joint resolve of Germany and the United States to fight terrorism and transnational crime.”

Now the cat is out of the bag. Our DHS rules say that we can only collect information about “foreign” targets. Germany’s rules may or may not be the same. But good old U.S. citizens are certainly not exempt from the German security biometric and data dragnet. We are faced with two individual security entities, both obeying their respective security and privacy laws, which together can create a for-intents-and-purposes database that is forbidden by both countries.

The Federal Computer Week article is filled with caveats indicating that the governments will be careful to avoid privacy concerns. The article also indicates that, ultimately, the goal is to unify the biometric database with those of all the European Union (EU) countries.

Mukasey said he hoped the agreement would lead to similar pacts with other EU countries. Officials from those countries have raised privacy concerns about security measures that the U.S. has taken since the 2001 terrorist attacks, but U.S. officials say that the biometric agreement was carefully written to include privacy assurances.

The insidious kicker in all this is that the DHS databases of collected passenger information are exempted from the privacy act rules and regulations. We can’t even, legally, find out if our names are in this secret database maintained by out own government. Forget about getting access to these similar databases maintained by foreign countries.

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