I’m taking a little trip home soon and am sooooo excited to learn that going through customs will be perhaps my first opportunity to provoke the government into opening a file on me!

A group of activists asked to have their Automated Targeting System files released and learned that the Department of Homeland Security is now collecting info on travelers like “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.” This is absurd. If the Department of Homeland Security was a person, I think they’d be diagnosed as having some severe form of paranoia. And people wonder why tourism to the U.S. took such a dive…

Here’s the gems from the article, in snazzy bullet form:

  • The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years.
  • One activist’s file, released on his request, “included a note from a Customs and Border Patrol officer that he carried the marijuana-related book “Drugs and Your Rights.”
  • The DHS database generally includes “passenger name record” (PNR) information, as well as notes taken during secondary screenings of travelers.
  • PNR data…routinely include names, addresses and credit-card information, as well as telephone and e-mail contact details, itineraries, hotel and rental car reservations, and even the type of bed requested in a hotel.
  • Another individual who requested her file “was taken aback to see that her dossier contained data on her race and on a European flight that did not begin or end in the United States or connect to a U.S.-bound flight.”
  • Quoth Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist “The Automated Targeting System is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans’ personal activities that the government has ever created.”
  • The system “does not allow a traveler to challenge an agency decision in court” and “a traveler has no ability to correct erroneous information.”

A DHS spokesman said “that he is not familiar with the file that mentions Gilmore’s book about drug rights, but that generally ‘front-line officers have a duty to enforce all laws within our authority, for example, the counter-narcotics mission.'” So someone reading up on their rights is, in his mind, reasonably to be expected to possibly be breaking the law? Nice.

My plan? To encourage everyone to carry as much strange reading material as possible to warp their database and ruin their little surveillance project! We should all vow to carry around books on drugs, legalization, dissident political groups from around the world, anarchists, fascism, Islam, 9/11 conspiracy theories, those wacky mid-western militia groups, biographies of activists, and the more contradictory and unlikely the combination of reading material the better: how about Mein Kampf, a Koran, and a Woody Guthrie Bio? I’d like to see the notes on that file!