• Description

In the wake of 9/11, Congress estab­lished a new cabinet agency with a singu­lar mission: to keep the coun­try safe from terror­ism. The Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity (DHS) brought together 22 agen­cies with dispar­ate func­tions under one roof. Two decades on, it struggles to carry out its work effect­ively and equit­ably.

With the Home­land Secur­ity Act of 2002, Congress tasked the new depart­ment with keep­ing the coun­try safe from terror­ist attacks. DHS carved out a role for itself in two main areas: part­ner­ships with state, local, tribal, and territ­orial author­it­ies and screen­ing of trav­el­ers and immig­rants.

Section I of this report iden­ti­fies the agency's coun­terter­ror­ism collab­or­a­tions with state and local author­it­ies and private firms. These programs have routinely surveilled Amer­ican Muslims, trau­mat­iz­ing entire communit­ies and cast­ing them as hotbeds of terror­ism. DHS agents have deployed these very tools against protest­ors, activ­ists, and journ­al­ists.

Section II turns to travel and immig­ra­tion screen­ing programs. DHS has accu­mu­lated vast stores of inform­a­tion about people who travel into, out of, and over the United States. The Trans­port­a­tion Safety Admin­is­tra­tion (TSA) and Customs and Border Protec­tion (CBP), among other DHS compon­ents, use this data to draw infer­ences about them, docu­ment their move­ments, and subject them to warrant­less searches and inter­rog­a­tions. Agents do all of this without suspi­cion of poten­tial wrong­do­ing. Unsur­pris­ingly, reports of reli­gious or ethnic profil­ing are common.

Section III analyzes DHS's over­sight infra­struc­ture. Three primary offices — the Privacy Office, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liber­ties (CRCL), and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) — have curbed some of the depart­ment's trans­gres­sions. But they have allowed many other civil rights and civil liber­ties viol­a­tions to continue.

Finally, this report iden­ti­fies five aven­ues for reform: stronger safe­guards against profil­ing; better protec­tions for privacy and free expres­sion; rigor­ous eval­u­ations of program effic­acy; mean­ing­ful trans­par­ency about data hold­ings and the implic­a­tions DHS programs have for civil rights and civil liber­ties; and more robust internal over­sight. Forth­com­ing Bren­nan Center reports will delve into these recom­mend­a­tions in greater detail.