The US government’s terrorist screening database flagged Americans and foreigners as suspected terrorists almost 20,000 times last year, but only a small fraction of those questioned were arrested or denied entry into the United States, it was reported Saturday.
The Washington Post said these numbers were raising concerns among critics about privacy and the list’s effectiveness.
Slightly more than half of the 20,000 encounters last year were logged by Customs and Border Protection officers, who turned back or handed over to authorities 550 people, most of them foreigners, the report said, citing unnamed Customs officials.
FBI and other officials said that they could not provide data on the number of people arrested or denied entry for the other half of the database hits, the paper noted. But FBI officials indicated that the number of arrests was small.
A range of state, local and federal agencies as well as US embassies overseas rely on the database to pinpoint terrorism suspects, who can be identified at borders or even during routine traffic stops, the report said.
Few specifics are known about how the system operates, how many people are detained or turned back from borders, or the criteria used to identify suspects, according to The Post.
The government will not discuss cases, nor will it confirm whether an individual’s name is on its list, the report said.