Wednesday, 3 March 2004

"Nightmare of CAPPS II far from becoming reality"

Travel Weekly has the worst-designed Web site of those that I read regularly, rife with buggy browser-specific code requiring an unusually complex registration process as well as acceptance of both cookies and pop-ups.

But it’s one of the leading journals for travel agencies throughout the USA, and occasionally it’s worth the effort — as with this week’s legal advice column by Mark Pestronk, Nightmare of CAPPS II far from becoming reality:

Q: If the government’s Computer Assisted Passenger PreScreening System (Capps II) is implemented, what additional data will travel agencies have to gather? What will the government do with the data? Will it help stop terrorism?

A: The Capps II program is in political trouble, and it may never be implemented. Killing the entire program would be a good idea, as it will be excessively burdensome for the travel industry and cannot achieve its intended purposes anyway….

If Capps II was implemented, every travel agent would have to enter the following into the GDS reservations record: traveller’s full legal name, address, phone number and date of birth.

Of course, the GDS would need to be reprogrammed to capture this information and transmit it correctly to the airline and the government.

The government has failed to recognize the hundreds of millions of dollars in labor and technology that will be needed to add such a “Big Brother” system. It isn’t even clear that the government has the authority to require that all of this work be done by the GDSs and U.S. travel agencies.

Furthermore, there is no way to compel foreign travel agencies and city ticket offices to compile the necessary information. In any case, compiling the information and transmitting it to the U.S. would violate foreign privacy laws.

The system would be a terrorist’s delight, as all a terrorist would have to do is steal the identity of a law-abiding citizen….

Strong words, especially directed to a travel agency community composed overwhelmingly of “mom-and-pop” (or more often, given that most front-line travel agents and managers are women, mom-and-mom) local agencies, that have more often felt powerless to resist political and other external impositions on their business model and profitability.

After 11 September 2001, most travel companies wanted the government to do something (or at least be perceived as doing something) to reassure the public, and get them travelling again. So even the most heavy-handed and useless measures in the name of security, such as soldiers in battle dress with machine guns at airport metal detectors, were initially welcomed.

But ultimately the travel “industry” depends on the freedom to travel. More and more, it’s the government that is scaring potential travellers into staying home, and building systems like CAPPS-II to monitor their movements whenever and wherever they travel. More and more, the travel industry is uniting against those travel surveillance schemes. As well it should.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 3 March 2004, 07:10 ( 7:10 AM)
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