Feds to test airline passenger risk-detection system: YIKES!

A few years back, I read that the Government of Germany had attempted to set up a vast database, to track criminals. It was an effort to allow the local cop on the beat to identify criminals, based on their matches to a nation-wide database. I heard that the whole project was pretty much an expensive failure…real criminals are very adept in changing their identities, and frequently enough so as to render such a system useless.
Of course, common sense would have prevented most of 9/11…at Logan Airport, you had 4 arab men. all aliens, argueing with a parking lot attendent. They later showed up with one-way tickets, and their previous flight was to portland maine. These guys should have been suspects right away!

My fervent prayer and hope is that this whole thing is going to fall apart when someone gets flagged and sues, as happened with credit reports.

What will happen then is that the rationale for that person’s flagging will become known via the discovery process. In addition, I’d imagine that the entire algorithim will be opened up, rendering it moot.

And on that day, all real patriots and lovers of liberty will sing praises to (Insert deity or power of choice here).

Bad analogy. The guys who get nicked for speeding actually are breaking the law. The situation is closer to having the police conduct an extensive field sobriety check on every driver on I-95 at rush hour, even if they’re driving perfectly, have no alcohol on their breath, and aren’t behaving abnormally in any way. That’s just a waste of time. While the police are wasting their time making every motorist on I-95 walk a straight line, and creating the traffic jam to end all traffic jams, drunk drivers on nearby Route 1 are being ignored.

Look, this isn’t complicated: security resources are limited. It’s simply not possible to achieve complete, absolute security, short of having a sky marshall assigned to every passenger. (Even then, we’d have to worry about bogus sky marshalls.) So, doesn’t it make sense to use your limited resources in the most effective way possible?

It’s very noble to say that everyone should be subjected to exactly the same level of scrutiny. The civil libertarian in me says that this is the way it should be. There’s just one problem with that approach: it’s stupid. If the suspect is described as being a tall, middle-aged blond man, you don’t spend your time carefully examining short, young, dark-haired women.

Now, before someone jumps all over me, I’m not saying that we should focus all our security attention on young Middle Eastern men. You’d never catch a Tim McVeigh that way. But it does make sense to pay more attention to someone who’s been flying back and forth between Boston and New York repeatedly, whose home address is in Florida somewhere, who’s been buying his tickets at the last minute, and paying cash for them, etc. Does he have a constitutional right to do that? Sure, but the security guys have a right to check him out.

Like many other posters in this thread, I get very nervous when the government starts amassing large amounts of data about individuals who have done nothing wrong. But in this instance, the alternative appears to be a system that’s crippling our own travel industry needlessly, and damaging our economy. That makes the question a bit more difficult. The public’s inability to challenge “red flag” decisions, however, is clearly way over the line - that’s the kind of thing that has John Ashcroft’s ghoulish fingers all over it.

BTW, as far as terrorists being smart enough to make themselves look like just regular tourists, the experience of the 9/11 hijackers indicates otherwise. They did a number of things that unnecessarily drew attention to themselves, like being loudmouths in local bars, getting into arguments with people over parking spaces at the airport, etc. Terrorists are not geniuses, and creating a “plausible tourist” background isn’t easy when that’s not, in fact, what you are.

So, do I think this proposal is a good idea? No, I think it goes too far, and has far too few checks on the government built into it. Do I think the current system is good? No, it misdirects scarce resources, and causes a lot of economic harm needlessly. A different approach to airport security is sorely needed.

(BTW, I don’t get “ticked off” when my stuff is searched at the airport. I get there in plenty of time to allow for it, I pack all my stuff in clear zip-loc bags so it’s easy for them to check, and I’m very careful not to take anything questionable in my carry-on bag. I just think it’s a monumental waste of time and resources.)

** ** wrote…

YEP! I agree, we need to do something but man, oh, man I just get so wigged out by the implications of something like this. Today its airline tickets, tomorrow its a question of weather or not you are worthy of having the ability to “pursue happiness”, as defined by a structure that is far larger than yourself, and in which, there are NO checks or balances and you have no ability or chance to “de-criminalize” yourself. Again, I know we must do something, but at this rate (IMHO) The United States of America will no longer be the home of the free and the land of the brave, it will become the home of the watched and the land of the * you better watch yourself, 'cause if you don’t your gonna be smacked down so low, you won’t be able to get back up again"* and I do not believe that is what the USA is all about.

** tlw ** wrote…

Well put. I just pray to (Insert deity or power of choice here) that the test case is not going to be me.

As Eva Luna explained in this thread

I hate to break it to you all, but thet’re already doing this. Everytime I fly I get stopped about 18 times before I can get in my seat. I guess i’m labelled a “potential troublemaker” because I have piercings in my face. Or maybe they have some huge database with your Driver’s License picture in it (on mine I look like a arab for some reason, despite the shaved head and no beard). I just got a creepy picture that day.

NEwho, the point is they’re already doing it. they’ve been doing it for years. They have only recently stepped it up a notch. And, if you haven’t been bothered by it yet chances are likely that you won’t be bothered anytime soon.

I’ce been actually hoping for a change in the system so I can get on a flight for once without getting my arse probed.

** Kal ** wrote…

Thanks for the link Kal! Too bad it only goes on to support my notion that the US government couldn’t organize a pot luck dinner.

** Early Out **

I’m going to have to give you some special attention here:

You. Are. Right! We cross posted. I was writing when you posted.

Check this out!

Super good point! I don’t have any argument. You win. My only concern is what will the “powers that be” do with this information as it is applied to other areas? As I stated earlier my concern is not that that the government can inhibit my ability to travel freely, my concern is that in time the government will inhibit my ability to do ANYTHING freely, and just as I stated above, in time ANYTHING you do will be AUTOMATACALLY subject to government scrutiny and that will be the end! We will become “The Data Base Nation”. My whole trip is that this is just the beginning. And the minute that ANYONE can do a “data base mining procedure” on ME is the day I quit being an American. This is not about who is a security risk, (though it may seem so at first), this is about a lack of checks and balances on who has information on YOU, how easily it is for them to access this information and weather or not there is a procedure in place for you to correct inconsistencies. Well, from what I see, there will not be any. First it will be who can travel by air, and in time it may turn out to be by precedent, who can live WHERE, who can shop WHERE, who can work WHERE? All based on a collective data base, administered by assholes who can not profile a real terrorist, a real serial killer OR the kid down the block for that matter. If this comes to pass, it is a dark day for the greatest country in the world, I can assure you. And so the whole point of the thread was that this does not bode well for the USA - UNLESS - the people stand up and say “Hay, wait just a minute!” … You think they will?

Actually, I think they flew themselves to Portland, Maine. They were pilots, after all.

For a very, very brief time after 9/11 it was proprosed that anyone holding a pilot’s license be banned from flying commercial airlines. Fortunately, that was recognized as stupid even by politicians. Which doesn’t rule out other lunacy. It’s an example of wanting to label people for ease of distinguishing the Bad Guys from the Good Guys. Oh, THOSE people are dangerous, so anyone with charateristic X or Y should just be banned from society then we’ll all be safe.

Sorry, doesn’t work like that.

Problem is, with the criteria for flagging being secret, no one can stand up and say “Guys, that’s a REALLY STUPID idea.” And it’s just waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too open to abuse. Piss off the wrong guy and suddenly you lose the right to travel, whether you “should” or not.

Problem is, this is going to get worse before it gets better, and it’s not going to get better until it winds up in the courts or so many people are so affected that sheer numbers overturn the system.

So as not to bog things down over niggling differences, I’m going to respond only to this bit:

In your example there’s an actual suspect.. Presumably there’s been something that a particular tall blond middle-aged man did that triggered an inquiry. In the program undern discussion, everyone is treated as a suspect with no provocative act other than wanting to go from one place to another relatively quickly.

As an individual who just had his license suspended for a clerical error, I mightily object to databases I can’t look into in order to clear my own good name.

Point taken, but under the current system, everyone is already treated as a suspect. You, and others, have bemoaned the potential loss of your Constitutional right to travel, and justly so. However, that right isn’t even explicitly laid out in the Constitution - the Courts have inferred it from the language that’s there.

Contrast this with our Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, which is explicitly guaranteed in the Constitution. When it comes to air travel, we surrendered that right many, many years ago. Even before 9/11, and much more so after, when you went to the airport, you allowed agents of the U.S. Government, without even a hint of probable cause (and certainly without a warrant), to subject you to a search of your person and your possesssions. And if they don’t like something you’re carrying, they’ll summarily take it away from you.

All of this is blatantly unconstitutional. So why don’t we raise a stink about it? Let me venture a guess: we’ve decided (perhaps without thinking it through in a conscious way) that we’re willing to trade some of our civil liberties for security. And that takes us to the heart of the matter. Complete liberty gives rise to a complete lack of security. Complete security, on the other hand, can only be achieved by surrendering all of our liberty. It ends up being a balancing act.

I think the concerns expressed by Janx are legitimate, but I suspect it’s too late already. Most of us live substantial portions of our lives electronically (financial records, travel plans, academic records, etc., etc.), and the protections on those records are pathetically weak. If the gummint wants to go exploring those databases, there’s very little to stop them. In fact, I’d be amazed if they aren’t already doing it.

But before you despair at the “parade of horribles” that Janx lays out, you need to ask yourself whether the Government would really have the time or inclination to check out what you’ve been up to. Let’s face it, most of us lead pretty mundane existences.

Barbarian has hit the nail on the head: whatever database mining is used to screen passengers, anyone who’s denied boarding, or who is subjected to extraordinary scrutiny, should have some means of challenging that determination (after all, a real terrorist probably wouldn’t make such a challenge, since it would, at least initially, invite even more attention!).

What worries me more is that the next terrorist attack will occur, say, on some shopping malls, so we’ll be subjected to all sorts of oppressive security measures when we just want to go shopping. Then, there’ll be an attack on some highway bridges, so our highways will suddenly be peppered with security checkpoints. In the name of security, we’ll cripple ourselves.

And it won’t be because the Government has started data mining, as Janx fears. It will happen simply because we will overreact to each terrorist attack, and implement inappropriate, and burdensome, security measures.

Relax, people! Everyone knows slippery slope arguments are a fallacy!!!


Remember, SenorBeef, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t someone following you around! :wink:

A stink has been raised about it but the courts have consistently found that screening baggage is not an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. IMHO running a complete background check including credit report is not reasonable if the only indicator of possible illegal activity is buying a ticket for a plane ride. Also, prior to 9/11 baggage screeners were not federal employees. They were federalized under one of the “homeland security” laws signed in the aftermath. That they were federalized and are now officially government agents potentially raises an entirely new set of constitutional questions.