US Homeland Security sued over data mining

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US Homeland Security sued over data mining

Privacy group wants Govt to hand over intel documents.

A US-based privacy lobby group has sued the country's customs agency over its unwillingness to release details on a border control program the group claims represents an unconstitutional invasion of citizen's privacy.

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) filed its lawsuit over the weekend in an effort to force US Customs to make public documents detailing the structure, scope and capabilities of its "analytical framework for intelligence" database, as first reported by Ars Technica.

The AFI database has been in operation since August 2012 and compiles data pertaining to travellers and cargo crossing US borders. 

It allows Customs to access a single platform for link analysis, anomaly detection, pattern analysis and predictive modelling of relevant data, which includes names, addresses, social security numbers, occupation, race and nationality, among other details.

The data used in the AFI comes from both government and non-government databases - including the Department of Homeland Security's 'automated targeting system'.

The automated targeting system was initially created to screen cargo but has since been extended to monitor individual travellers and create risk assessment profiles based on race, ethnicity, gender and other factors.

The assessments signal to Customs officers whether further inspection of a person or shipment may be required, regardless of whether the person has a clean record.

The EPIC has previously taken issue with the inclusion of race and nationality in the risk assessment profiles, arguing that the inclusion of such details in a government database was "unconstitutional", and has urged the US Government to suspend the risk assessment system.

The lawsuit, which asks for documents relating to the AFI, was filed in response to an unanswered freedom of information request earlier this year.

The lawsuit challenges the department to disclose the documents requested under EPIC's April FOI request, and make public the basis for the automated targeting system's risk assessment profiles.

"AFI is an invasive database that aggregates data on individuals regardless of suspicion or consent. Government officials will use AFI to make determinations about US citizens without adequate review," the privacy body said in its filing.

"Individuals have strong expressive interests in their online activity. If expressive activity is used as the basis for increased scrutiny at the border, serious First Amendment concerns may be implicated.

"The public should be informed about what types of information are being uploaded, from what sources, and how such information is being used."

Australia's border control agencies are also currently embarking on a quest for more automated and intelligent border processing systems

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has previously signalled his desire for the use of biometrics to expand border protection capabilities, while Australia's Customs is trialling the use of biometric smart gates, and also this week appointed a supplier for a modernised, intelligence border clearance system.

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