Report: DHS unit fails to fully disclose use of personal information

The Customs and Border Protection agency has failed to inform the public how personal information collected from international travelers is being used, as required by law, according to a new study.

To comply with legal requirements, CBP, a unit of the Homeland Security Department, must complete a series of reports that fully describe the use and protection of personal data collected while prescreening passengers for international flights, the Government Accountability Office reported (GAO-07-346).

The current process allows passenger information to be used in multiple prescreening procedures and to be transferred among various CBP systems in ways that are not fully explained in the agency's privacy disclosures, the report said.

"It is important for CBP's documentation to describe all of the steps of the prescreening process because the interrelationship of various steps of the process allows data to be transferred and used in ways that have not been fully disclosed," GAO stated.

The 1974 Privacy Act and the 2002 E-Government Act require agencies to protect privacy by limiting the disclosure of personal data and informing the public how such information is being used and kept secure. Agencies keep the public up to date by issuing system of records notices and privacy impact assessments.

In response to the report, Steven Pecinovsky, director of the GAO and inspector general liaison office at DHS, said the department is in compliance with both laws, and that claims otherwise are "incorrect and without merit."

CBP collects personal data from various sources, including passenger and government databases, and uses it for identity matching against the government watch list, risk targeting and passenger document validation, GAO said. CBP officers also use commercial data to a limited degree to assist them in confirming a passenger's identity, according to the agency.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said although he supports rigorous screening of airline passengers bound for the United States, CBP must conduct this screening in a manner that protects privacy rights.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.