Public Disclosure Request From Customs And Border Protection Reveals Huge Data Collection By U.S. Government For Airline Travelers Via Airlines

Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Customs and Border Protection Shoulder PatchCyrus Farivar, the senior business editor of Ars Technica, wrote of his experience of having made a Freedom of Information Act request for data held regarding his Passenger Name Records (PNR) provided to the government by airlines, travel agents, and online booking services in order to review what is being tracked in his prior international travels. According to Cyrus, the government initially only included basic information going back to 1994 but after he appealed the request and the government then returned a seventy six page document of data revealing extensive data collected from 2005 to 2013.

He discovered that airlines and these various companies routinely hand over extensive passenger information during each transaction with the customer, including: phone number; address; e-mail address; meal preference (could be used to determine religion); accommodation requests; (can reveal health conditions); changes of seating; credit card numbers; whether the passenger is travelling with others and who; IP address; language used; notes from call center workers and other data not readily apparent to a reader.

The documents reveal a window into what privacy advocates believe is a disturbing trend of the U.S. Government to collect all things on all persons. And, this will likely have other repercussions.

According to The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the goal is “to enable CBP to make accurate, comprehensive decisions about which passengers require additional inspection at the port of entry based on law enforcement and other information.” And, that the data is only kept readily available for five years and then “dormant, non-operational status.” But Cyrus states the CBP data from his PNR data went back to 20005.

In his article Cyrus writes:

“No wonder the government can’t find needles in the haystack—it keeps storing irrelevant hay,” [Fred] Cate, [a law professor at Indiana University] told me “Even if the data were fresh and properly secured, how is collecting all of this aiding in the fight against terrorism? This is a really important issue because it exposes a basic and common fallacy in the government’s thinking: that more data equates with better security. But that wasn’t true on 9/11, and it still isn’t true today. This suggests that US transportation security officials are inefficient, incompetent, on using the data for other, undisclosed purposes. None of those are very encouraging options.”

“No wonder they didn’t want you to know what they had about you,” he added.”

Cyrus Farivar
Cyrus Farivar

Cyrus’ article describes quite well the complete cooperation and transmittal of citizens’ data with government agencies for the purpose of data warehousing. Originally the intent seemed to be given to the public that the information was only retained on international flights and passengers but it seems that the scope of monitoring by Customs and Border protection goes beyond the traditional expectations of Border Security but now it includes domestic flights as well, as revealed in Cyrus’ FOIA Request and appeal.

So much for President Obama’s pledge that it is only meta-data being collected and benign, actually it is far more revealing than “your phone calls will not be recorded” such as in your telephone conversation with your travel agent.

By Darren Smith


Ars Technica

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

29 thoughts on “Public Disclosure Request From Customs And Border Protection Reveals Huge Data Collection By U.S. Government For Airline Travelers Via Airlines”

  1. I think, John, you will find at least four planks of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx in our government, particularly as regards graduated income tax. You have the big one: so unworkable as it penalises the upstat and rewards the down statistic, so thats what you get, less of everything.

  2. Really, Paul S, I ALWAYS get one of those slips from the TSA every time I go abroad or return. I suppose its more understandable with my bright orange pack sack with comments like 1984 & 9/11 as an inside job, but this started years ago when my luggage was plain navy blue Dullsville! Never had em pinch or confiscate anything though and the repacking is good.

  3. John:

    You are absolutely right about the Bill of Rights – it was an absolute statement of our rights.

    However, the Bill has been so watered down over the years by jurists and politicians introducing qualifiers (“no reasonable expectation”, etc) that it would be unrecognizable to the founders.

  4. PCS,

    The Founders “gave us a republic” – freedom.

    American jurisprudence has done everything in its power to separate Americans from their money and keep Americans as far as possible from the “blessings of liberty” as they foist the “compassionate” welfare state on us born of their religious doctrine. America the THEOCRACY.

    It must be lucrative.

    American jurisprudence espouses and assures control of the economy and redistribution.

    It is counterintuitive given the free economy the Founders lived in completely without governmental interference, their writings, the Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    Sounds more like the Manifesto.

    “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

    Control of the means of production (i.e. industry) and elimination of the gold-backed currency as a “utility.”

  5. Someday a brilliant constitutional scholar is going to come along and expound on the appropriateness of throwing every elected and appointed official in jail for egregiously violating the RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO PRIVACY.

    Someday a brilliant constitutional scholar is going to come along and say just read the words, don’t “interpret” or legislate from the bench, your Honor.

    There should be NO SURVEILANCE OR RECORD made of any citizen’s private material, thoughts and words which are audible and recordable on their telephone, in letters, houses, cars, I-Phone, Tablets, computers, any and all electronic devices, etc.

    How is it that the best and brightest legal scholars cannot see that the freedom of the individual citizen, sustained through self-reliance, was the essential thesis of America at its founding. A simple reading of the Preamble comprehensively describes the literal, enumerated limitations on the government to Justice, Tranquility, Common Defence and General Welfare – for those of you in Rio Linda that’s security and infrastructure. The Founders Established, Insured, Provided and Promoted. That and nothing but that. They also Secured the “blessings of liberty to OURSELVES AND OUR POSTERITY,” (not to Mexico, China, Dubai, etc.) which are the endeavors and industries (including education, charity and healthcare) conducted by citizens in the private sector without governmental interference.

    The Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights were not written for and comprehensible only by the “intellectual” “elite” “best and brightest” “betters:” Any grade school student can read this:

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    Somebody needs to go to jail.

    1. John – if you want to insure your privacy make sure the Justices of the Supreme Court have the same devices you have.

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