Planning a trip anywhere next year? It might not be a bad idea to make driving plans instead of flying — since the US is planning to start flagging and detaining travellers at the airports.
In the most aggressive — and, some say, invasive — step yet to protect air travelers, the federal government and the airlines will phase in a computer system next year to measure the risk posed by every passenger on every flight in the United States.
The new Transportation Security Administration system seeks to probe deeper into each passenger’s identity than is currently possible, comparing personal information against criminal records and intelligence information. Passengers will be assigned a color code — green, yellow or red — based in part on their city of departure, destination, traveling companions and date of ticket purchase.
Most people will be coded green and sail through. But up to 8 percent of passengers who board the nation’s 26,000 daily flights will be coded “yellow” and will undergo additional screening at the checkpoint, according to people familiar with the program. An estimated 1 to 2 percent will be labeled “red” and will be prohibited from boarding. These passengers also will face police questioning and may be arrested.
The system “will provide protections for the flying public,” said TSA spokesman Brian Turmail. “Not only should we keep passengers from sitting next to a terrorist, we should keep them from sitting next to wanted ax murderers.”
Okay, ignoring the “ax murderer” line for now — surely one of the most blatantly idiotic and ripe for ridicule statments reported in the press lately (which is saying something, given our current president) — let’s just take a look at the numbers here. The article mentions 26,000 daily flights. Assuming 100 passengers per flight (quite possibly a low estimate), that’s 2,600,000 people screened per day. Of those, up to 8 percent — 208,000 people — will be “yellow tagged” for extra screening. One to two percent — between 26,000 and 52,000 people — will be “red tagged”, questioned by police, and possibly arrested.
From later on in the article:
The existing system identifies certain passengers as risky based on a set of assumptions about how terrorists travel. For instance, passengers are flagged for additional screening if they bought a one-way airline ticket, or if they paid with cash instead of a credit card. Passengers who present a threat under these and other criteria are issued boarding passes that bear a coding of “SSS” or \”***.\”
Well, that explains some of the fun I’ve had travelling over the past couple years. While the measures quoted above were enacted after I moved to Seattle, when I did move here, I did so by purchasing a one-way ticket (since I was moving, there wasn’t much sense in a round-trip flight), and doing so with cash (technically a check, but it certainly wasn’t by credit card, as due to my own goofs in past years, my current credit rating doesn’t allow me to get a credit card). Since then, when I’ve travelled, though the flights have been round-trip and purchased (probably) by credit card, the tickets have been purchased by people other than myself (usually my parents, when I’ve visited Alaska) — and I’m guessing that that’s quite possibly another flag. Either that, or I’m just naturally threatening, since I’ve been pulled out of the line on every flight I’ve been on since Sept. 11 for extra screening. This doesn’t bode well for my chances on future flights under the new system.
Under the new program, the airline will send information about everyone who books a flight to the TSA, including full name, home address, home telephone number, date of birth and travel itinerary. If the computer system identifies a threat, the TSA will notify federal or local law enforcement authorities. The agency has not indicated the number or type of personnel needed to oversee the program.
The TSA will check each passenger in two steps. The first will match the passenger’s name and information against databases of private companies that collect information on people for commercial reasons, such as their shopping habits. This process will generate a numerical score that will indicate the likelihood that the passenger is who he says he is. Passengers will not be informed of their color code or their numerical score. The second step matches passenger information against government intelligence combined with local and state outstanding warrants for violent felonies.
All of your personal information will be used to catalog and profile you, including shopping habits. Don’t splurge on a new toy you’ve been saving for — that’s outside of your normal shopping profile, and you must not be you! Don’t buy an present for a friend that isn’t anything you’d normally buy. And for god’s sake, don’t suddenly start buying a lot of liberal anti-government publications — you’re obviously a terrorist! The worst part is, I’m not sure that I’m actually overreacting here.
The ACLU is listing their five problems with CAPPS II. In brief:
- The Black Box: Americans Judged In Secret
- Effectiveness: This System Will Not Make Us Any Safer
- Mission Creep: Build It And It Will Grow
- Due Process: No Notification, No Correction, No Appeal
- Discriminatory impact: the potential for systematic unequal treatment
Salon is also looking at this, though while I’ve yet to read anything but the teaser, it seems they’re looking at another angle:
It’s at once an Orwellian prospect and a potential gold mine for the travel industry: A database of the type envisioned by the government would allow hotels and airlines to get their hands on your lifetime itinerary.
And, lastly, there’s some good (frustrated, upset, pissed off, sarcastic) commentary in the MetaFilter thread about this.
As opposed to the standard color coding system that takes place outside of airports of white and brown…
Hmm. In addition to the always popular “Driving whilst black”, doubtless we shall now have added “Flying whilst muslim”. Phew. Thank goodness this is the land of the free, and not some tyrannical regime that locks up innocent citizens for nothing, eh?
So, rather than address some very real security issues, the TSA gives us a horribly flawed system ripe for abuse and the illusion of safety procured at the expense of civil liberties. Gee, thanks.
So the logical next step might be to make the non-green passengers wear something to make them more identifiable. I don’t know…how about an armband with a yellow star? (Presumably a red star wouldn’t be needed since the exceptionally non-green would just be taken out back and shot.)
I am of the belief that things like this are leaked in an effort to gauge public opinion. It is therefore imperative that those who disagree with it be as vocal as possible.
— jpoulos (emphasis mine, however)
Just as an paranoid aside: what, exactly, stops them from implementing a similar system – you know, just to make sure you’re not sitting next to a terrorist or axe murderer – on trains and buses? I’m sure nobody could object too strenously to being “profiled” upon buying a train or bus ticket. Could they? Maybe a few random bus and train “inspections” every so often by the police, making sure you’ve got a valid right to travel … after all, travel is a luxury and not a right :)