Privacy SOS

More airport madness: what will your risk rating be?

Collect enough personal data, trawl through enough data bases, assign passengers a risk rating score and the traveling public will be safer, right?

DHS officials and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) think so. They are embarking on a “new effort” to detect “which travelers to examine more closely – or to prevent from flying at all.”

Back in 2011, the TSA was contemplating moving towards an “intelligence-driven system” as part of a “security shake up.” Apparently such a system is now deemed ready for prime time.

According to The New York Times, it involves mining “data individuals have volunteered by applying for trusted traveler programs, as well as information gathered through terrorist watch lists, criminal background checks and border checkpoint encounters.”

Whew. No doubt the Automated Targeting System will prove useful. Will the Disposition Matrix also be consulted?

That’s not all. The IATA is promoting biometrics at checkpoints to make sure you and your passport are in synch.

For some added insurance, DHS is planning to pad the TSA payroll with an expanded corps of Israeli-style decidedly low tech ‘behavior detection officers’ who supposedly detect ‘suspicious’ people on sight.

Leave it to the DHS to decide to move in this direction despite the fact that ‘behavior detection’ has, according to the GAO, no scientific validity; despite the metastasizing of flawed watch lists containing the names of half a million ‘suspects;’ and despite the fact that one out of every four Americans has some kind of record of criminal record.

You don’t even have to be charged with a crime to be labeled “untrusted” for entry into the current “trusted-traveler” Global Entry program.

The Times article describes what happened to a woman who “said she had been detained for questioning by the police as a teenager but was never charged with a crime. Because of this incident, she said, she was rejected by Global Entry. Since there was no court case, she cannot get the record of disposition required by the Global Entry enrollment center, which did not accept the official letter from the court she submitted…’What is this category that I’m in now that I can’t fix?’ she asked.”

She will probably never know, just as Saadiq Long, an African-American Muslim and US Air Force veteran with no record of criminal activity was given no explanation of why he was on – off – and then on again the ‘No Fly’ list. We wrote about his plight here.  A few days ago, Long finally managed to return from Oklahoma to his family in Qatar – but could only do so by taking planes that did not travel through US airspace.

We can be sure of one thing. The “risk based approach” and “behavior detection” will rely heavily on profiling, especially of Muslims and travelers to “countries of interest.”

Government officials apparently couldn’t care less that the evidence shows that profiling doesn’t work.

The massive surveillance of the Muslim community by the New York Police Department has unearthed not a single terrorist plot, but severely damaged police-community relations – see the new report, Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and Its Impact on American Muslims.

A system that combines Total Information Awareness and profiling: don’t you feel safer already? 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.