Sunday, 18 July 2004

Editorial calls for new travel privacy law

Editorial reaction to the latest changes in the CAPPS-II airline passenger profiling and monitoring system has varied, from USA Today's Good riddance to the Boston Herald's Al-Qaeda wins one in the war on terror .

Wired News features ex-National Security Agency agent Bill Scannell in The Man Who Helped Kill CAPPS II , also noting the role of my reporting in having "uncovered important details about the system". It might surprise some of my friends (and enemies, for that matter) that an ex-felon hangs out with ex-spooks, but I have a long history of cordial working relationships with ex-NSA agents in a wide variety of settings. They've all told me that my skills would be perfectly suited for the NSA, if my political views were different, which I take as an indication of the similarity between investigative journalism and intelligence analysis.

Perhaps the most significant editorial commentary on CAPPS-II comes today from the Baltimore Sun . Noting that, "Under the once-heralded Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, fliers would have been forced to provide airlines with additional personal information," the Sun opines that, "CAPPS II was a deeply flawed idea."

But the demise of CAPPS II should be celebrated cautiously....

Together, the CAPPS II fiasco and the GAO report -- not to mention the Defense Department's now stymied Total Information Awareness program -- underscore the threats to individual privacy posed by the rapidly increasing collection of data about our daily movements and transactions, the government's growing access to this private-sector data, and its use of sophisticated statistical techniques to plumb this material for investigatory purposes.

The problem here is that government data-mining -- particularly of commercial databases -- is flourishing in a legal environment providing insufficient privacy protection. There have been recent congressional calls for much-needed strengthening of the roles of federal privacy officers, but in the end, new legal protections will be necessary.

The Sun thus becomes the first major editorial voice to endorse the need for Federal travel privacy legislation . Let's hope that someone in Congress takes up that call.

[Addendum, 19 July 2004: I almost forgot to point out how the changes to CAPPS-II are being protrayed abroad, as in U.S. Simplifies Color-Coding of Air Passengers after months of Controversy (The Spoof, UK).]

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 18 July 2004, 21:46 ( 9:46 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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