Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Cyrus 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’ 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
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