Democrats & Liberals Archives

Automated Targeting meets Minority Report

First there was the credit score, something to prove to lending organizations you’re worthy of the debt. Then CLUE, a score by which insurance companies decide whether or not a person is insurable. Now we have Automated Targeting System or ATS that the government uses to determine whether or not you are travel-worthy.

ATS, managed and developed over four years ago by the Homeland Security Agency, the people that brought you the response to Katrina, are assigning millions of travelers computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.

The scores are assigned when people enter or exit the United States after data mining applications assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for their tickets, their motor-vehicle records, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.

ATS’s existence was disclosed in November through a buried announcement detailing ATS in the Federal Register. Lawyers, Congressional aides and law-enforcement officials that heard about the program thought that ATS was about cargo, not citizens.

Homeland Security already tried this crap before with “Secure Flight” but were stopped two years ago by Congress until the system could pass a 10 step accuracy and privacy protection checklist. Back then Americans and Congress were told that the TSA had stopped Secure Flight, but instead, Homeland Security renamed it ATS. (link).

What does the score mean? Well, if you’re a citizen, you’ll never know. As a citizen you do not have access to your own record or score. With your credit score or CLUE you can fight your way through to gain access to your score, but with ATS, it’s owned by the government and they are restricting access. Unless you’re a state or local government or then you can see the report. In fact, in some cases, the score could be shared with courts, Congress and even private contractors. But citizens cannot see or contest the score.

What is this preoccupation with preemptive surveillance?

We’ve seen what preemptive policy did for the Middle East, but has this infatuation with surveillance actually stopped anything?

Other preemptive surveillance activities like data-mining phone records, the NSA tapping phone lines and email accounts and the in-your-face Total Information Awareness System (TIA that was meant to track citizens' every move, from Web surfing to doctor visits, travel plans to university grades, passport applications to ATM withdrawals have proven to be duds. For if any of this surveillance netted anything significant the government would have been screaming from the hilltops “See… we’re protecting you!” And since the Bush administration hasn’t said anything; one can only deduce that they haven’t found anything.

In Spielberg’s Minority Report, adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name, the world is described where technology controls every facet of daily life and how, with regards to criminal activity, crime is prevented before the crime occurs.

Is this the ultimate goal of the Bush administration? To stop something before it can happen by any and all means possible?

Homeland Security said that ATS was aimed at discovering high-risk individuals who “may not have been previously associated with a law enforcement action or otherwise be noted as a person of concern to law enforcement.”

Their justification is clear, big brother is watching you for your own good. And if you don’t have anything to hide; you shouldn’t be worried.

Just look at anyone in Congress; they’re the people with plenty to hide. Do you think that they are being assessed an ATS score?

Posted by john trevisani at December 3, 2006 3:46 PM
Comment #197575

The worst thing about this is I’m not a bit surprised. That’s scary.

Posted by: womanmarine at December 3, 2006 6:57 PM
Comment #197595

I have been railing against population growth for decades, and this is but one, of the many reasons for doing so. The greater the population density gets, the greater the perceived need to track its individuals, and even, license their activities, in order to control them, and their potential which strikes fear into the individuals feeling overwhelmed and outnumbered by such masses.

Democracy will not survive perpetual population growth, even if the planet finds a way. Freedom and power don’t mix well when those in power, and backing power, fear the population’s freedom to act outside the dictates of power.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 3, 2006 9:57 PM
Comment #197605

The real problem with this is not merely that it is a breach of civil liberties. The problem is that it is both that, and a highly ineffective way to track terrorists.

The TIA crowd thinks that what you want is more information. No. Why? because somebody has to sift through all that to find meaning. If you trust a computer to do that, you trust a device that is incredibly poor at understanding things in context.

Computers can scan for words, but its the usage that is important, and which distinguishes those with benign motives from those without. Without that ability to tell benign from malignant, we aren’t able to tell the difference so well between those we need to protect ourselves from and those who we don’t.

The longer we have to sift through the false positives and excess results to find our target, the more we waste the resources at hand. That’s why good old fashion detective work is still the gold standard of the constitution and our investigations: we know better what information we can throw away, in favor of more meaningful items. We won’t win the War against the Terrorists by going on a wild goose chase.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 3, 2006 11:54 PM
Comment #197607

David: I think this has less to do with population and more to do with technological ability. Those who have the power like to have control of things. Many in the government want this kind of control over the people and many corporations want it to. Soon, if you are speeding or you run a redlight, your car will tell on you.

Look how they are selling this means of complete control of the citizens. Oh, we are only after terrorists and those who aid terrorists. Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear. You will hear many on the right say that this seems perfectly fine and necessary to them. We will also here it said that those who oppose this want the terrorists to win. It isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination to come to the conclusion that any who oppose the use of technology to monitor citizens are aiding the terrorists by ther very opposition and should be monitored just to be on the safe side.

It seems that the more we learn in the technology arena, the faster we learn. Think how much better it will be a decade from now and let’s say that by the grace of God, the terrorist threat is eliminated, is there anyone who thinks the government and the corporations are going to mothball all of the surveillance technology or do you think they are going to find other reasons for continuing and expanding their surveillance of their citizens. Big Brother may not have been able to watch all of you all the time in 1984, but by 2014 or 2024 he will be.

After all, nearly all of us are good law abiding citizens and it is only Our Big Brother watching over us to keep us safe.

Posted by: jlw at December 4, 2006 12:02 AM
Comment #197621

For those who do not believe radical Islam is at war with the US. For those who do not believe we should be at war with it. Any effort to fight that war is viewed as wrong and must be attacked by any means possible.

I believe that radical Islam IS at war with us. I believe that Bush is right in waging war against them and using all his power to do so.

I think there are things that can be improved in the program and you have mentioned some, but I don’t believe the program itself should be scrapped….those who rabidly oppose fighting that war against radical Islam will of course rage against the program no matter how refined it is to accommodate any valid criticism.

A government doing all it can to protect it’s citizens in a time of war against the enemy is not “big brother trying to destroy the constitution. But liberals who oppose this war against radical Islam will cry “wolf Wolf Wolf” at any move the government makes to peruse the war against terrorists.

Our first step here should be to FORCE CONGRESS to vote not on “force” (the tool they’ve used for 50 years to avoid voting for war) but to make them vote for War against terrorism. Make each and ever congressmen go on record as voting for against a war against terrorists.

That would then give the basis for all further action be it running and hiding from them or using every tactic we can to fight them, route them out, defeat them.

Democrats of course don’t want that vote. The radical left knows it might lose that vote….so it’s a vote that must never happen. But I blame both parties for not having the moral courage to lay it out for a vote.

Posted by: Stephen at December 4, 2006 8:54 AM
Comment #197623

The by-all-means-necessary model of preemptive action, be it to wage war against Iraq or shred the living document that our nation is founded upon, has a definite cost.

Every preemptive surveillance system that this administration has used has yielded nothing, zip, nadda. Yet we have lost our citizenship in the process.

No longer does our government respect its citizens; they are routinely lumped in the same pie of dogcrap as al queada, saddam hussein and Kim Jon il. This government has reacted to a terrorist threat by creating a society motivated soley by fear and the subtle oppression of millions of law abiding citizens. And for every freedom that this government removes in the name of national security, it validates that the terrorists are indeed winning the war on terror. Since we are affecting our way of life, not the terrorists.

Posted by: john trevisani at December 4, 2006 9:10 AM
Comment #197626

john said “Just look at anyone in Congress; they’re the people with plenty to hide. Do you think that they are being assessed an ATS score?”

Since the risk number assigned is the threat to Big Brothers control, I’d say they have a pretty low number indeed.

Stephen not Dougherty,

What flavor did you get?

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at December 4, 2006 9:17 AM
Comment #197645

Stephen L-
A system that works by suspicions rather than proof of malice is one that multiplies its suspects and divides its focus. That’s why the Bush administration hasn’t been successful in confronting al-Qaeda and eliminating it.

Our civil liberties work to our benefit by forcing our officials to justify their invasion and investigation with evidence to support their suspicions. Such evidence is easier to procure in cases where something is actually going on. It’s not perfect, but it works, and America is a fairly peaceful, orderly country, despite the lack of such police powers.

The thing to also understand is that the ability to dragnet does not create a perfect system. By taking the emphasis off of proven connections, such systems create injustices that undermine faith in and respect for the government, and also create many false positives to occupy investigators. Also, such systems still suffer from the common human problem of not knowing everything. The false positives of such a system contribute to worsening that ignorance, even entrenching such failures of analysis.

In the end, it’s like cheating in school. You become dependent on the cheating rather than learning the skills that allow you to pass the test on your merits. Here, you try and cheat to get at the terrorists, but fail to learn how to properly track them and establish who you are.

America does not need totalitarianism to survive. It needs a system where evidence of guilt drives the investigations, not merely the suspicions of a person who may not know all they need to know to suspect the right people.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 4, 2006 11:40 AM
Comment #197668

This is the same old story, follow the money. Control equates to the ability to take your wealth. Most laws that are enforced regularly are the revenue enhancers. We need less laws and more freedom, isnt that what conservatives are supposed to be about?

Posted by: JayTea at December 4, 2006 3:39 PM
Comment #197685


“Every preemptive surveillance system that this administration has used has yielded nothing, zip, nadda.”

Now be truthful.
We did catch that ruthless group of wannabes down in Miami.

Posted by: Rocky at December 4, 2006 6:49 PM
Comment #197700

Hey, look, science has found the link that seperates Conservatives from Liberals. Consider this:

“Neanderthals Were Cannibals, Study Confirms”

And this:

“Humans and Neanderthals Might Have Interbred”

So, there we go, we now know without a doubt why conservatives find the “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” mentality more palitable than liberals do. Some of us are simply more Neanderthal than others.

Now, before anyone blows a gasket, take a deep breath. If this makes you really angry maybe I’m onto something. Hopefully you’ll think this sounds as absurd as ATS sounds to me.

Bush and Co. are to be trusted to use ATS to rate me based on info that they need not confirm with anyone. I won’t even know what my rating is or what criteria was used in that process. Maybe they’ll reach a conclusion based on “willy-nilly” info like I just did.

Much of Bushco’s defense for his intrusions and violations of the Constitution have relied only on the premise of “trust me”! Well, I don’t trust Bush!!!!!!! Period!!!!!!!

And just to head off our most recent threat to sanity, Jihad translates into “war”. We are therefore “at war” with those who have declared war on us. And they are followers of extreme Islam. The question is, “how do we win this war”?

That question remains unanswered and open for debate, but it’s pretty damn obvious that Bush’s approach has been disastrous. Our failure in Iraq along with the death of thousands of “innocents” only serves to fuel the fire of hatred.

Boy oh boy, I’ll bet my ATS rating just went all to s**t.

Posted by: KansasDem at December 4, 2006 8:29 PM
Comment #198088

What is the big deal about keeping tabs on those who travel in and out of our country. First, conservative Americans scream about the ease of terrorists slipping into our country illegally because people are not being tracked at the border. Then liberal Americans start whining about the collecting of information on those that we know are travelling back and forth across the border in order to measure their possible terrorist links. I wish the American people would give the Bush Administration a break for a change. If the Administration doesn’t build a fence on the border people talk about suing the government for not protecting us. If the Administration uses surveillance to track those at the border, others start talking about suing for violating people’s rights. I am convinced that it is not the Administration that can’t get its act together. I am convinced it is the American people that can’t take this terrorist threat seriously enough to put their partisan bickering aside. I’m fed up with it!!!

Posted by: JD at December 6, 2006 11:33 PM
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