FBI Keeping Records on Pre-9/11 Travelers

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Fri Jan 14 20:01:08 PST 2005


My Way News

FBI Keeping Records on Pre-9/11 Travelers

Jan 14, 7:45 PM (ET)


 WASHINGTON (AP) - If you're among the millions of Americans who took
airline flights in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,
the FBI probably knows about it - and possibly where you stayed, whom you
traveled with, what credit card you used and even whether you ordered a
kosher meal.

 The bureau is keeping 257.5 million records on people who flew on
commercial airlines from June through September 2001 in its permanent
investigative database, according to information obtained by a privacy
group and made available to The Associated Press.

 Privacy advocates say they're troubled by the possibility that the FBI
could be analyzing personal information about people without their
knowledge or permission.

 "The FBI collected a vast amount of information about millions of people
with no indication that they had done anything unlawful," said Marcia
Hofmann, attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which
learned about the data through a Freedom of Information Act request.

 "The fact that they're hanging on to the information is inexcusable,"
Hofmann said on Friday.

 FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the bureau was required to retain its records.

 "There are rules that have been set by the National Archives with regard
to the retention of records by government agencies," Carter said.

 Hofmann, though, said the FBI still had a legal responsibility to tell
people that it had obtained information about them and to let them have
access to it.

 As part of its investigation into the terrorist attacks, the FBI asked
for, and got, the records from a number of airlines shortly after Sept. 11.
The FBI also got one set of data through a federal grand jury subpoena.

 The privacy center in May requested records of the FBI's acquisition of
the data. The bureau last week turned over 12 pages of information, much of
it blanked out for security reasons.

 The 12 pages do show that the bureau obtained 82.1 million passenger
manifests, or lists of people who flew on planes, between January and
September 2001, in addition to the 257.5 million passenger name records.

 Citing privacy concerns, the FBI didn't reveal which airlines turned over
the information, which airline employees turned it over and which FBI
special agents got it.

 The data are called passenger name records, or PNR, and can include a
variety of information such as credit card numbers, travel itineraries,
addresses, telephone numbers and meal requests.

 David Hardy, the FBI's chief of the record/information dissemination
section of the records management division, said in a legal document dated
Jan. 5 that the data were being stored and combined with other information
from the Sept. 11 investigation, dubbed PENTTBOMB.

 "I have been advised that the Airline Data Sets have been entered by the
Cyber Division into a 'Data Warehouse' and have been intertwined for
analytical purposes with the information from several other PENTTBOMB Data
Sets," Hardy wrote in a statement to the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia, where the privacy center filed its suit.

 Hofmann, the attorney for the privacy group, said the FBI had a legitimate
reason for collecting information to get a better picture of the hijackers'
travel patterns and possible associates.

 But, she said, "it wouldn't seem that there's any reason to keep that
information now."

 The FBI's Carter said he couldn't comment on what may be happening to the
data because the bureau is involved in a lawsuit by the privacy center.

 Daniel Solove, a George Washington University Law School professor and
author of a book on privacy, said not enough is known about what the FBI is
doing with the data to determine if there is a problem.

 "Data just sits around and who knows what people are doing with it?"
Solove said. "The public is left completely out of the loop, not told what
this data is for. The agency is basically saying 'Trust us.'"

 Solove suggested there was irony in Congress last year ordering the FBI to
more quickly purge information obtained in background checks of gun buyers.
That, he said, can be useful in tracking down criminals.

 "Congress wants to protect guns at great cost, but when it comes to
privacy and civil liberties generally, it doesn't register on the same
level," Solove said.


 On the Net:

 Electronic Privacy Information Center: http://www.epic.org

 FBI: http://www.doj.gov

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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