TSA Security Checks Begin Long Before Travelers Arrive At The Airport
from the more-data-stockpiling-and-careless-dissemination dept
The TSA may not be privately concerned about the average flier’s desire to hijack the flight he or she is boarding, but that hasn’t dissuaded it from continually ratcheting up the invasiveness of its pre-boarding procedures. Between the spilling of breast milk/baby formula and the casual groping of toddlers, attractive women and anyone with a visible medical condition, the TSA has “brusquely and barely competently invasive” nailed down.
But that’s just what’s going on between the airport exit and your departing flight. The New York Times reports that there’s an entire level of pre-boarding screening going on well before you hit the airport.
The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information.
While the agency says that the goal is to streamline the security procedures for millions of passengers who pose no risk, the new measures give the government greater authority to use travelers’ data for domestic airport screenings. Previously that level of scrutiny applied only to individuals entering the United States…
It is unclear precisely what information the agency is relying upon to make these risk assessments, given the extensive range of records it can access, including tax identification number, past travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics, and law enforcement or intelligence information.
At what point does someone “who poses no risk” start feeling offended the TSA is doing deep read on his or her financial and employment background? The TSA already has the PreCheck program, which allows fliers to pay money to reclaim civil liberties removed by the agency’s security theater.
Those who haven’t joined this select group are still receiving very thorough vetting (even when flying domestically) but without gaining
any of the benefits the one benefit of extensive pre-screening: speedier passage through security. The TSA says these background checks “streamline” the process, but if so, the results are nearly imperceptible to travelers. Of course, this lack of noticeable change may be due to the TSA’s bold plan to speed up things slightly sometime before 2015.
The T.S.A. has emphasized its goal of giving 25 percent of all passengers lighter screening by the end of next year, meaning they can keep their shoes and jackets on, wait in separate lines and leave laptop computers in their bags.
While we’re all waiting for a one-quarter of travelers to start breezing through security, the extensive background checks will continue on all fliers, with the collected data being shared indiscriminately with other government agencies and private businesses.
Much of this personal data is widely shared within the Department of Homeland Security and with other government agencies. Privacy notices for these databases note that the information may be shared with federal, state and local authorities; foreign governments; law enforcement and intelligence agencies — and in some cases, private companies for purposes unrelated to security or travel.
For instance, an update about the T.S.A.’s Transportation Security Enforcement Record System, which contains information about travelers accused of “violations or potential violations” of security regulations, warns that the records may be shared with “a debt collection agency for the purpose of debt collection.”
If you’re one of those unlucky travelers who receive the algorithmically-generated “please extensively search this flier” designation (or return home from a trip to find your voicemail full of calls from collections agencies), there’s not much you can do about it. There’s an official “Traveler Redress Inquiry Program,” but as we’ve noted before, it’s low on functionality and long on officious uselessness.The TRIP provides minimal details in response to inquiries, if it can be bothered to respond at all. Those on no-fly lists (or those that suspect they might be) receive letters that refuse to “confirm nor deny” the inquirer’s inclusion on this super-secret list.
Add the TSA to the long list of agencies gathering tons of data on Americans simply because they have the technology and the opportunity. Supposedly this invasion of privacy will pay off in an incremental speed improvement at airport security checkpoints sometime in the next year or two. The resulting payoff in increased security will continue to hover right around nil for the foreseeable future.