WASHINGTON - Seven major U.S. and foreign travel-industry associations urged the government to suspend a computerized system for assessing international travelers as potential terrorists.
''We are deeply concerned that such a far-reaching and invasive screening of millions of business travelers entering and exiting the U.S. could do significant personal harm to them, and reduce the productivity of the organizations that field business travelers,'' the group said in a joint letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Thursday.
Homeland Security has defended the Automated Targeting System as essential to national security.
The travel groups join some members of Congress and privacy advocates in criticizing the system, which The Associated Press disclosed last month has assigned risk assessments to millions of Americans and foreigners entering and leaving this country over the past four years.
In November, the Homeland Security Department slipped its first detailed public description of the program, which has operated since the late 1990s, into the Federal Register, a fine-print compendium of regulations. It said that travelers could not see their assessments to challenge them, the assessments would be kept 40 years and might be shared with state, local and foreign governments and even courts and private corporations under some circumstances.
The letter was circulated by the U.S.-based Business Travel Coalition, which lobbies for the interests of business travelers.
Other signers included the Institute of Travel Management and the Guild of Travel Management Companies in Great Britain; the International Association of Exhibitions and Events and others.