February 25, 2004

Wyden Questions Ridge in Data-Mining by Department of Homeland Security

Senator requests response from Secretary on all efforts at Federal agency

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today called on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Tom Ridge to provide information on all data-mining activities currently being undertaken by the Department. Wyden, who questioned Ridge during the morning's Budget Committee hearing on homeland security funding, has long worked to ensure that the Federal government's data-mining efforts respect Americans' privacy and civil liberties. "A whole host of information is being examined by government agencies every single day," said Wyden. "Congress is in the dark with respect to what's going on in data mining, there are no privacy rules, and [taxpayers] are spending money on this, and it seems to me that the public has a right to know exactly what's going on." Wyden questioned Ridge about the amount of taxpayer funding being used on data mining programs at DHS, and whether any privacy rules are being observed in the process. He asked the secretary to furnish for the record a list of DHS programs involving data mining, Ridge noted that DHS does refer to databases of information on companies and individuals to carry out container, port and border security, and that the agency continues to consider a Computer Assisted Passenger Profiling System (CAPPS) for airline passengers. Currently, there are no comprehensive privacy laws regulating the federal government's access to, or use of, public and private databases. Wyden has introduced the Citizens' Protection in Federal Databases Act to hold government agencies accountable for the use of private and personal information. The bill would require the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Treasury, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to provide to Congress a detailed report explaining the use of databases for law enforcement or intelligence purposes. Additionally, it prohibits the use of databases to explore "hypothetical scenarios" to prevent government agencies from trolling through bank records, online purchases, and travel plans without regard to actual intelligence or law enforcement information. In 2003, Wyden successfully forced the shutdown of the "Terrorism (formerly Total) Information Awareness" program, a Defense Department data mining effort that could have seriously infringed upon the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens. TIA was originally conceived and directed by retired Admiral John Poindexter, the former National Security Adviser to former President Ronald Reagan. Wyden became the most vocal critic of the Administration's plans for data mining, wrote successful legislation requiring Congressional approval of their TIA efforts, and finally shut down the TIA program in the Defense Appropriations bill when it became clear that the program would cross the line to violate law-abiding Americans' privacy.