The state Division of Motor Vehicles is sharing personal information about innocent Rhode Islanders with a growing federal anti-terrorism database, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island charged today. The ACLU has called on the DMV to stop sharing the data and to publicly justify its decision to participate in the first place.
According to a recently leaked document, Rhode Island is one of 15 states sharing biometric data from drivers’ licenses with the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a government organization that integrates and analyzes what it describes as “all intelligence pertaining to terrorism possessed or acquired by the U.S. government.” The center’s database, the Terrorist Identities Database Environment (TIDE), contains information on more than one million people, and in FY2013 collected over 2,400 facial images from its driver’s license initiative, according to the leaked document.
In an August letter sent to DMV administrator Anthony Silva that has gone unanswered, ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown raised deep concerns about the state assisting the NCTC, which is allowed to collect and analyze information regarding innocent Americans who do not have any known connection to terrorism. The letter called on the DMV to halt its participation in the driver’s license initiative or any similar program that collects innocent individuals’ personal information.
“In recent years, investigative reporting and leaks have revealed a frightening explosion of federal efforts to collect information and spy on innocent Americans. That, and the secrecy surrounding most of these efforts, is a stain on democracy. It is deeply troubling to learn that Rhode Island agencies like the DMV are – in secret, without any public awareness, discussion or input – assisting in some of these intrusive programs,” Brown said in the letter.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter and the leaked document is available here.
Much of this collected data is also added to the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), often called the “master watchlist,” that is shared with federal agencies, law enforcement agencies, and foreign governments. Individuals on this watchlist are often added to others, including one that subjects them to enhanced security screenings at airports and the No Fly List.“To nominate an individual to the TSDB, the government need only have reasonable suspicion that a person is a suspected terrorist; in other words, individuals can be watchlisted merely if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists,” Brown said.The ACLU requested that in addition to ending its participation in the collection of personal information, the state also publicly explain why it agreed to participate in the program in the first place. The DMV has failed to respond, and a follow-up letter sent to the Governor last week has also gone unanswered.
“The country has become all too aware in recent years of the federal government’s vast, and seemingly unquenchable thirst for, gathering of information on innocent individuals in the name of fighting terrorism," said Brown. "Rhode Islanders deserve to know why the DMV has been assisting in this questionable effort and whether this involvement will be halted.”