The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.
The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security‘s effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department’s Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.
But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.
Of course, the completely politicized Department of Justice would be most happy to use any of this against their “enemies”:
In the last two weeks, two sources, one of them inside of the Justice Department, have told me that a scheme was hatched in the upper echelons of the Bush Administration shortly after it took office in 2001 or early in 2002. The project identified John Edwards and Hilary Clinton as likely Democratic challengers to President Bush, and identified prominent trial lawyers around the United States as the likely financial vehicle for Edward’s rise. It directed that their campaign finance records be fly-specked, and that offenses not be treated as administrative matters but rather as serious criminal offenses.
The scheme contemplated among other things that raids be staged on the law offices involved, and that the records seized not be limited to campaign finance—there was an acute interest in all politically oriented documents, in order to seize valuable intelligence on strategic planning from the enemy camp.
This all sounds rather fantastic—even more insidious than the enemies list days of the Nixon era. It is precisely the sort of crude harassment that a primitive dictatorship would use against its enemies—like Alexander Lukashenko in today’s Belarus, for instance. But as the descriptions were passed to me, I instantly recognized the pattern described recently in a case which has made the headlines in Michigan involving a prominent lawyer there, and a second case in Los Angeles. According to one source, the number of these cases is at least five and they are scattered about the country. One case, described to me in some detail, closely matches the pattern in Michigan and Los Angeles and occurred in the south on the Gulf of Mexico.
If you think we are ever going to see fair elections again, you’re just delusional.