“See something, say something” continues to be the Dept. of Homeland Security’s favorite words. Concerned that its sprawling reach and 100-mile, border-encompassing “Constitution-Free Zone” aren’t protective enough, it has routinely called on the American people to report any suspicious activities their fellow Americans might be participating in… like taking pictures of public structures… or using a hotel’s side exits.
By Tim Cushing @ Tech Dirt
Now, the DHS wants to take it further. The DHS wants to turn every retail store into the haphazard debacle that is the TSA’s screening process. No, store employees won’t be frisking your kids or detaching medical equipment from your friends and neighbors, but they will be making uninformed decisions about your purchases. (via Ben Swann)
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his department will be issuing new guidance to retailers this week giving them pointers on how to spot potential terrorists among their customers by looking at what they’re buying.
While saying the government cannot prohibit sales of some everyday materials, Mr. Johnson said retailers should be trained to look for anyone who buys a lot from what he described as a “long list of materials that could be used as explosive precursors.”
He said it was an extension of the “If you see something, say something” campaign launched by his predecessor, former Secretary Janet Napolitano, which tries to enlist average Americans to be aware of their immediate environment.
Since it would be impossible to train thousands of retail store employees properly, this will likely take the form of an item watchlist, one that will be constantly subject to change. It will probably also instruct employees to view perfectly normal shopping behavior as suspicious.
As has been the result of previous “see something, say something” efforts, this new directive will create another massive database of false positives for Fusion Center employees and local law enforcement to deal with. Johnson specifically cited pressure cookers (while stating the government couldn’t actually forbid their sale) as one example. If so, then this directive has no chance in hell of catching terrorists and is guaranteed to serve up a lot of unsuspecting (and unsuspicious) consumers for further government examination.
Pressure cookers are a legitimate item that thousands of consumers use. Now, they’re viewed as the equivalent of buying a U-Haul truck full of fertilizer. Past incidents are prompting future actions, much as they do with the TSA (shoe bomber? off with your shoes!). Constantly being one step behind the clumsiest terrorists isn’t going to keep the country any safer. It’s just going to make it a worse place to simply “go about your business.”
Johnson says the DHS is looking for “explosive precursors,” which could be nearly anything. Because retail outlets don’t share customer purchase data with each other, this may result in the DHS attempting to justify the requisition of data from multiple retailers using credit/debit card numbers as a starting point. (Just business records, folks. No Fourth Amendment to see here.) And as has been common for forever now, people using cash to purchase stuff will be viewed as extra suspicious.
This is another dangerous, stupid step that won’t catch terrorists but will generate tons of budget-justifying busywork for the DHS, and put more people on the government’s radar who’ve done nothing more suspicious than buy things they need or want.