Are you a vegetarian who prefers to sit near the front of the plane? If so, prepare to be harassed. CNN recently uncovered that the Homeland Security Department’s Automated Targeting System [ATS] assigns a terrorist rating number to every single person entering or leaving the United States. The score is based on the passenger’s method of payment, one-way flights, meal preferences, seat assignment, e-mail address, voluntary and involuntary upgrade history, and frequent flier miles. But unlike a credit score, it cannot be challenged or even viewed by the individual. And the score will stay on file for 40 years.
This might not be such a huge problem if passengers’ ATS numbers weren’t going to be made available to state agencies, students, and private contractors, among others. Theoretically, if a person is, say, denied a job at a post office or a construction company because of their terror score, they’ll never know and they’ll never be able to challenge it.
Given that many infants have been harassed at airports because they have similar names to terrorists, the chance that the ATS scores and information will be misused seems high. And, with the ATS’s new headquarters and a staff that’s tripled since 2001, it seems we can expect even more searches and baseless groundings.