Wednesday, 7 July 2004

Don't register to fly.

Today the USA Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and several major airlines (starting with Northwest, to be followed by United and American) started providing separate security lines at certain hub airports for those of their elite frequent flyers who have volunteered to be photographed, fingerprinted, iris scanned (recording the patterns of blood vessels in their eyes), subjected to criminal and other unspecified background checks, have all this information retained for an as yet unspecified and unlimited time and given to other government agencies in the USA and abroad, and carry a “two-dimensional barcode” registered traveler card whenever they fly.

Many questions remain unanswered, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center points out in its comments on the TSA’s Privacy Act notice for the records to be compiled on registered travellers. The TSA has published a Privacy Impact Assessment of the traveller registration program, but neither it nor the TSA’s Fact Sheet even mention most of the key issues, such as what — if any — conditions will be put on retention, use, and re-disclosure of the records, including fingerprints and records of all addresses for the last 5 years, by other government agencies or travel companies that receive them. As the first public report by the new TSA privacy officer, Lisa Dean, it earns her an unequivocal “F”, or perhaps an “E” for Evasion of the real issues.

Supposedly, only invited elite members of airline frequent flyer programs are eligible to participate in the test, which implies some mechanism for TSA access to frequent flyer records to verify this. What form this TSA access to airline records takes, and whether it is bidirectional (giving airlines access to traveller registration records) has not been disclosed.

The government says this is all “voluntary”. But travellers will only register if either (A) registered travellers are searched less carefully or with lesser frequency than all airline passengers now are (with no evidence that they are actually less likely to be malevolent), or (B) unregistered travellers are subjected to slower or more intrusive searches than they are now (penalizing them for exercising their right not to “consent” to fingerprinting, background checks, and widespread dissemination and retention of their registration information).

As registration becomes the norm, unregistered travellers can expect progressively worse treatment. And if they complain, they’ll be told, “But you don’t have to go through this. Just give us your fingerprints and iris scans and a list of everywhere you’ve lived for the last five years, and agree to always carry the special card we give you to prove you’re not a terrorist, and we’ll go back to treating you no worse than we used to.”

But why should we have to register with the government to travel by licensed common carrier, or be punished if we don’t?

Interviewed in the New York Times , Barry Steinhardt of the ACLU echoes my arguments that the traveller registration program has assumed the functional agenda of the (apparently) defeated CAPPS-II passenger profiling and surveillance system, with profiling performed at the time of registration rather than at the time of travel, and with even more intrusive identification and personal data aggregation under even less privacy protection than the (inadequate) provisions in the CAPPS-II proposals.

I just got off the phone with a friend who emigrated to the USA from what was then the Soviet Union, and has only this month, after trying for a dozen years, finally been “granted” approval to become a citizen of the USA. I’m glad that the USA is still a place people like him want to come to, because they see it as symbolizing their hopes for freedom. I want it to be easier for them to come here, and I want them to actually find the freedom they hope for. I want the USA to live up to its advertised ideals.

Twenty years ago, I was put in a prison camp by the USA for refusing to submit to registration with a government agency (in that case, the Selective Service Slavery System) and for organizing and encouraging others to do likewise (which they did, and continue to do, quite spontaneously, by the millions). I did the right thing, and I’m proud of having done my small part to keep America free.

I’m not about to surrender my freedom just to get on an airplane. Nor should you. Nor should we have to.

Don’t register to fly. Don’t make us register. And don’t treat us as second-class travellers if we decline to “consent” to registration.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 7 July 2004, 19:03 ( 7:03 PM)

Given the rumors that the government is about to resume the draft, this is a particularly apt column. Once again, you turn on the light.

Your biggest fan

Posted by: Ruth, 8 July 2004, 18:36 ( 6:36 PM)
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