Dec 22

Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund

Where news stories go to die

It's Friday, December 22nd, a few days before Christmas. U.S. streets are packed with shoppers rushing from store to store to complete their holiday plans. Next week, Monday is a holiday, and the week that follows is the quietest time of the year for the news.

What better night than tonight to issue this report?

The Homeland Security Department admitted Friday it violated the Privacy Act two years ago by obtaining more commercial data about U.S. airline passengers than it had announced it would.
Seventeen months ago, the Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm, reached the same conclusion: The department's Transportation Security Administration "did not fully disclose to the public its use of personal information in its fall 2004 privacy notices as required by the Privacy Act."
Even so, in a report Friday on the testing of TSA's Secure Flight domestic air passenger screening program, the Homeland Security department's privacy office acknowledged TSA didn't comply with the law. But the privacy office still couldn't bring itself to use the word "violate."

This was a pretty big story (New York Times, Schneier, Boing Boing, ACLU, EFF, EPIC, Wired, and many others). There's no better way to try and bury it than to release it on the slowest news weekend of the year.

They must really not want you to know about it. I want the opposite, so I'll post this again in the New Year.

(Looking for a last-minute gift? EFF membership might be in order.)

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Comments: 8

  John Dowdell [12.22.06 08:59 PM]

I'd pay a higher ticket fare to travel on airlines which had functional profiling of other passengers, myself.

There should be room for both preferences, in a free, competitive marketplace...?

  John Dowdell [12.23.06 07:25 AM]

How much would I pay? Depends on the flight length, I suppose.

I take it this means you agree that public choice is good, although the Schneier sidetrip seems to imply a "my way or the highway" lack of public choice.

btw, did you catch the Berger report getting out yesterday too? The implications of *that* one are enormous...!

  adamsj [12.23.06 10:45 AM]

Can I get a cheaper ticket for a plane without profiling? I'd feel much safer not being on the plane that has the people who can afford the profiling. They make much better targets, especially all clustered up and identified.

  steve [12.23.06 04:20 PM]

John Dowdell... you're really saying that you'd pay more for a ticket on a safer plane, but your mistake is in thinking that profiling achieves this safety, or that there is any such thing as functional profiling.

Profiling only finds the people who havea previous history. Even the nastiest criminals have a first time. The London bombers had no previous history. Many terrorists have no previous history.

You need to quickly stop asking for "functional profiling" as such demands lead to the implementation of non-functional profiling as that is the only kind there is.

  John Dowdell [12.23.06 08:51 PM]

Oh, agreed, for sure... judging people by their history and current behavior won't tell you everything... just would change the odds a little bit. If religious murderers ever *do* use Rhode Island grandmas in walkers, then the first time they do, they'd catch us, you're right.

(Have you been following up on the "flying imams" scam? They were prepared with a lawyer and a press conference on very short notice, saying "look at our ancestry" rather than "look at our behavior". They're quite good at manipulating western programming.)

Core question remains, though: Why are airline safety procedures a politicized, centralized decision, rather than different policies offered by different businesses?

  adamsj [12.24.06 05:38 AM]

John Dowdell,

That's an interesting hypothesis about the imams who were taken off the plane. Tell me: How would you falsify it?

  Nj [12.25.06 11:20 PM]

It also should be noted that this is their defense:

Characterizing the Secure Flight problems as "largely unintentional," Homeland Security's privacy office attributed them to TSA's failure to revise the public announcement after the test changed.

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