After receiving criticism from travel, trade, and privacy groups, the Department of Homeland Security has extended the comment period for its Automated Targeting System.

This program, which began as a cargo-screening program, has for the last several years been used to mine, store, and assess the personal data of all travelers, including U.S. citizens, entering, or leaving the United States. DHS has used that information to assign risk assessment profiles on these incoming and outgoing travelers.

The original deadline for comments on the program was December 4, but when the scale and nature of the program started receiving widespread attention in the days preceding the deadline, DHS extended it until December 29.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, has been a driving force behind an effort to get DHS to reconsider the program. BTC submitted a letter, signed by a number of travel-related companies and organizations, asking DHS to “suspend the ATS program immediately; provide substantially more details on the program to us and our elected representatives; and proceed with ATS only through an official rulemaking with a significant public comment period, per requirements of the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974.”

David Sobel, senior counsel of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that the prior existence of the ATS program without a Privacy Act notice suggests the program has been conducted illegally. “But the bottom line is that DHS needs to disclose more information about the system before we can have a meaningful public debate,” said Sobel, who’s organization deals with electronic privacy and free speech issues.