Reports of errors in US terrorist database

01:43, Jan 31 2009

The United States terrorist database being used by New Zealand spies has come under serious fire for being error-prone and likely to cause innocent people to be detained by American authorities.

The Security Intelligence Service has announced it signed a new information-sharing deal with the US under which it gains access to a US terrorist database. The agency said the deal would enhance national security "by improving our ability to identify individuals with links to terrorism before they are granted or denied entry to the border".

But concerns about the accuracy of information and the use to which it could be put have been raised by a US Justice Department audit report on the US Terrorist Screen Centre (TSC).

The centre is run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and itsdatabase is a consolidation of 12 US Government agency watch lists.

The information it contains is available to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operational support for federal, state, local and foreign governments. The terrorist database is used to screen people applying for visas, international travellers and people stopped for traffic offences. As at April, it had 720,000 records and that is growing by 20,000 records a month.

A US Justice Department audit published last month says management by the TSC "continues to have significant weaknesses" producing a high error rate and a slow response to complaints.

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The Washington Post reports that, in an examination of a sample of 105 records, auditors found that 38 per cent contained errors that had not been detected.

The SIS and Prime Minister Helen Clark, the minister responsible for the agency, will not comment on the use of the US database.

Council for Civil Liberties chairman Michael Bott said he was concerned that New Zealand was relying on US intelligence agencies that had compiled inaccurate information on weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. "So we have a problem in the first instance of the reliability of their secret information."

Mr Bott said he was also concerned about information being given by the SIS to the US - its information on Ahmed Zaoui was incorrect and unsafe to rely on.

"The trouble is that you have these secret organisations that aren't publicly accountable making very important decisions affecting the liberty and right of movement of people between countries."

Green Party MP Keith Locke said he was concerned that New Zealand could be using an error-ridden database. It was liable to disrupt the travel plans of many innocent people.

He was not against getting intelligence from overseas as long as it was properly checked at the New Zealand end.

The Dominion Post