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September 9, 2003 11:01 AM   Subscribe

All US Air Passengers to be Profiled, and 1% Will be Banned from Boarding. In the most aggressive -- and, some say, invasive -- step yet, the federal government and the airlines will phase in a computer system next year to measure the risk posed by every passenger on every flight in the United States. Up to 8 percent of passengers who board flights will be coded "yellow" and pulled for additional screening. An estimated 1 to 2 percent will be labeled "red" and will be prohibited from boarding. These passengers also will face police questioning and may be arrested. [More Inside....]
posted by Dunvegan (97 comments total)

 
All Air Passengers to be Profiled, and 1% will be Banned from Boarding.

In the most aggressive -- and, some say, invasive -- step yet, the federal government and the airlines will phase in a computer system next year to measure the risk posed by every passenger on every flight in the United States. Up to 8 percent of passengers who board flights will be coded "yellow" and pulled for additional screening.

An estimated 1 to 2 percent will be labeled "red" and will be prohibited from boarding. These passengers also will face police questioning and may be arrested.

Says TSA spokesman Brian Turmail. "Not only should we keep passengers from sitting next to a terrorist, we should keep them from sitting next to wanted ax murderers."

"This system is going to be replete with errors," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty program. "You could be falsely arrested. You could be delayed. You could lose your ability to travel."
posted by Dunvegan at 11:02 AM on September 9, 2003


As opposed to the standard color coding system that takes place outside of airports of white and brown...
posted by jonson at 11:09 AM on September 9, 2003


Ewwwww, smells like Ashcroft.
posted by zekinskia at 11:13 AM on September 9, 2003


"Base-1 to Hawk, Base-1 to Hawk. Passenger wearing 'Dean in '04' lapel pin. Seal exits and bring jumbo anal probe."
posted by RavinDave at 11:14 AM on September 9, 2003


Yeah, I think the colours white, brown and darker brown weren't quite clear enough.

I've been planning a trip to NYC for a while now, despite all the horrendously scary shit that appears to be going down in the US. This is the final straw - I'm fucked if I'm going to be treated like a suspect just for getting on a plane at Heathrow. The US can stick this up their collective arse.
posted by influx at 11:15 AM on September 9, 2003


1-2% of the passengers of 26,000 daily flights. Assuming an average of 100 passengers per plane (which is probably low), we're looking at around 9.5 million red flags a year.

That's just stupid.
posted by nickmark at 11:19 AM on September 9, 2003


Gilmore doesn't look like such a clown anymore, eh?
posted by dorian at 11:21 AM on September 9, 2003


Hmm. In addition to the always popular "Driving whilst black", doubtless we shall now have added "Flying whilst muslim". Phew. Thank goodness this is the land of the free, and not some tyrannical regime that locks up innocent citizens for nothing, eh?
posted by kaemaril at 11:23 AM on September 9, 2003


Bravo! The "random" searches that are now performed on Grandma are complete waste of time and effort and do nothing to make air travel safer. I say shove political correctness and start profiling now!
posted by Durwood at 11:23 AM on September 9, 2003


I just did the same calculations you did, nickmark, only I used an even lower guesstimate of 40 passengers per flight. At that level, this would result in between 10,400 and 20,800 people being turned away from flights every day.

That's a lot of wanted ax murderers.
posted by yhbc at 11:23 AM on September 9, 2003


Actually, I don't mind flying next to an axe murderer, assuming they don't allow him to bring his axe on the plane.

That might be assuming too much
posted by Outlawyr at 11:26 AM on September 9, 2003


ooh, cute.

also, what Durwood said.
posted by dorian at 11:26 AM on September 9, 2003


I'm waiting for the armbands to be issued.
posted by Down10 at 11:27 AM on September 9, 2003


influx, my (Canadian, white) parents have said the same thing - I wonder how many tourism dollars the U.S. is going to lose, in exchange for the illusion of safety?
posted by stonerose at 11:27 AM on September 9, 2003


So, that means one person not on every second flight, let's say.

"Mommy, why is that man being taken away?"

"Well, honey, based on his library lending habits and audit trail, the government is sure that he would have blown up the plane."

"Oh.... and we're doing this to reduce terror?"

"Absolutely."
posted by jon_kill at 11:28 AM on September 9, 2003


A little math.

26,000 flights. "up to" 8% of the passengers will be up for "extra screening", 1-2% will face possible arrest, and will almost certainly not be allowed to fly.

Airplane capacity varies, of course, and no airline sells every seat on every flight. So, as a WAG, I'll say the average commercial flight in the US takes off with 50 unique passengers on board (that is, I won't count passengers making connections more than once.) 26,000 time 50 pax per = 1,300,000 unique passengers per day.

104,000 of them will be considered risky enough to merit extra searches and questioning. 13,000-26,000 of them will be considered too risky to be allowed to fly, and may be arrested.

Fuck what? Thirteen to Twenty Six THOUSAND passengers a day are too dangerous to be allowed to fly? If there was a one in ten thousand chance that each of these "red" passengers would attempt to hijack a plane, we'd be seeing somewhere around 500 attempted hijackings a year in the US -- well over 1 a day.

This is beyond wrong. This isn't security. This isn't even a joke.
posted by eriko at 11:29 AM on September 9, 2003


Any comment I could make has already been said by better people in better words.

I surrender to my own hopeless apathy, my government has abandoned and screwed me over and over and over and . . .
posted by DBAPaul at 11:35 AM on September 9, 2003


Companies on the upswing: Avis, Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise....
posted by gimonca at 11:36 AM on September 9, 2003


Yes, when I read this I found it impossible to believe that one to two passengers per plane should be in the "red" category with ax murderers and terrorists, subject to interrogation, denial of travel and possibly arrest. This is both boneheaded AND a serious infringement on civil liberties. Bit of a turning point for me, reading this. They've gone too far.
posted by coelecanth at 11:36 AM on September 9, 2003


I say shove political correctness and start profiling now!

Please submit your name and address for inclusion in the red flag database to TellTSA@dhs.gov. Your membership here should qualify you for inclusion.

Oh, you meant other people should be harassed, just be glad your name isn't David Nelson.
posted by jester69 at 11:37 AM on September 9, 2003


we should keep them from sitting next to wanted ax murderers

Fuck that shit. You know how boring some people are on those long flights?

But seriously, this is crap.
posted by DyRE at 11:39 AM on September 9, 2003


Sounds like a thread full of terrorists in fear of being caught. You can't run forever you know. Do the rest of us a favor and turn yourselves in now, pretty please.
posted by Witty at 11:43 AM on September 9, 2003


All you math whizzes are assuming that the 1-2% figure of reds will stay constant over time. That's highly unlikely. Unless someone who gets coded red is really stupid or really masochistic, they'll stop trying to get on airplanes after the first time they're arrested.

Now, when are they going to start screening the people on the ground near airports for shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles?
posted by alms at 11:44 AM on September 9, 2003


On the other hand, the TSA is saying that "It's going to be a lot fewer people [flagged], but we think it will be the right people."

Can anyone find any numbers about how many people are being flagged (erroneously or not) under the current system?
posted by nickmark at 11:45 AM on September 9, 2003


Here is the Privacy Act Notice for CAPPS II from DHS, presented here without further comment.
posted by gimonca at 11:45 AM on September 9, 2003


Oh boy, I can't wait to head back east this week. Into New York on 9/11. Should I prelube my ass for the body cavity check now?

I'm surprised there hasn't been talk of building a fifty mile high wall around the USA so that we can continue to live free from terrorist attacks.

NickMark, I can't give you numbers but on one single cross country flight I was searched three times in three chances. I'm an average sized white male but I think I'd forgotten to shave that day so maybe that was why.
posted by fenriq at 11:51 AM on September 9, 2003


Great googledy-moogledy. Good thing I can't afford to fly anywhere.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:55 AM on September 9, 2003


Statistics is a wonderful field; there are so many counter-intuitive results.

Like how error rates work out. It's not the success or failure rate of a test that matters; it's the ratio between the failure rate and the rate the tested condition occurs in the population tested that matters.

For example, if we assume that terrorists are 0.1% of the population, and we have a profile that is 99% accurate-- meaning, in 100 applications of the test, it gives one positive result-- what this actually means is that for every 1000 people tested, you'll finger 10 people, but only one of them will be a terrorist.

Now, Miami-Dade saw, on an average weekend in 2001, 100,000 passengers per day. (BTW-- that made it the 12th largest airport in the US in passengers per day in 2001.) Assuming 1.5% "positive" result rate, that's 1,500 people per day detained and possible arrested.

At one airport.

On one day.

How many of them do you think are terrorists? What about the ones who are actively gaming the system?

More mathematically sound is pure random screening. It's the only way the system can't be gamed. Political correctness has nothing at all to do with it.
posted by Cerebus at 12:00 PM on September 9, 2003


Well, looks like I won't be flying anywhere until I can afford to own a personal jet. I'm one of those people who gets searched every time at every airport no matter what. Yeah, you know ... little white girls in leather jackets are obviously a profile for something dangerous.
posted by Orb at 12:01 PM on September 9, 2003


The TSA will check each passenger in two steps. The first will match the passenger's name and information against databases of private companies that collect information on people for commercial reasons, such as their shopping habits. ... The second step matches passenger information against government intelligence combined with local and state outstanding warrants for violent felonies.

In other words, the first step entails checking your credit report from a credit bureau (Equifax, Experian or Trans Union) or your dossier from Acxiom or Innovis Data Solutions.

Raise your hand if a credit bureau has ever reported erroneous information about you. Ah, I see that's most of you.

Madness.
posted by Holden at 12:03 PM on September 9, 2003


Good thing I can't afford to fly anywhere.

same here. wouldn't be so bad if the damnable chinatown busses hadn't been packed with greenhorns every single time over the last few months...still, cash and no ID, I likes nothing better.

Cerebus: maybe there needs to be a community formed, or at least a set of behavior patterns codified (MIT made a good start on it already, I believe), that actively games the system to introduce garbage (or very specific, heh) data and suchlike, a la majcher's nyt formpage...highly amusing when top politicos start getting tossed off of flights and hauled into jail.
posted by dorian at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2003


"As an alternative, a voluntary no-check list of passengers willing to board dedicated flights with absolutely NO screening will be available for those wishing to take that plunge..."
I expect to see all those griping MeFis listed there, putting their lives where their mouths are..
posted by HTuttle at 12:09 PM on September 9, 2003


This is exactly what the terrorists wanted us to do. Strip ourselves of freedom via fear. I say we should go in the exact opposite direction, drop the restrictions and dare the next group of terrorists to get on a plane filled with well-informed civilians. DARE them to try that again. I think it's already been proved they wouldn't get away with it again, now that we're aware of the possibility. It's why the fourth plane hit the ground, and not a building.

I suppose the old adage is true: everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:10 PM on September 9, 2003


A population that walks is easier to control.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:17 PM on September 9, 2003


for those wishing to take that plunge

I'll take 'that plunge.'

My god, are all people sheep nowadays? What happened to the 'Home of the Brave?' [As if I would have anything to worry about. I have a better chance dying in an auto accident.]
posted by moonbiter at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2003


So, rather than address some very real security issues, the TSA gives us a horribly flawed system ripe for abuse and the illusion of safety procured at the expense of civil liberties. Gee, thanks.
posted by UnReality at 12:23 PM on September 9, 2003


HTuttle you'd not only find me there, I'd be spitting on the other lines with every step. I wouldn't deign to fly with the kind of people who would voluntarily give up so easily.
posted by Ryvar at 12:24 PM on September 9, 2003


"illustrated last month by an accidental landing of several boaters on the airfield at John F. Kennedy International Airport" - what? What does this mean?
posted by rainbaby at 12:29 PM on September 9, 2003


Companies on the upswing: Avis, Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise....
Don't forget Cessna, Beech/Raytheon, Piper, OMF, Diamond... And if Eclipse ever gets their affordable jet beyond the planning stages the airliners will really start to see a decline. The VTOL/STOL characteristics of the Cartercopter will be worth watching as well.

Assuming of course that Big Brother doesn't decide that General Aviation is dangerous and must be severely regulated or grounded.
posted by ehintz at 12:31 PM on September 9, 2003



The system "will provide protections for the flying public," said TSA spokesman Brian Turmail. "Not only should we keep passengers from sitting next to a terrorist, we should keep them from sitting next to wanted ax murderers."


Number of travellers in a given day: Couple million.
One percent of travellers in a given day: Tens of thousands.
Number of wanted axe murderers: Approximately zero.

And I like TSA.
posted by effugas at 12:36 PM on September 9, 2003


Could the article just have been poorly written, and meant to say "1% of the 8% who are yellow-coded will be red-coded and not allowed to fly"?

I know that's not what it says, but it would be a lot less numerically staggering.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:41 PM on September 9, 2003


Damn right I'd fly on the no-screen flight.

Why wouldn't I?
posted by delmoi at 12:42 PM on September 9, 2003


I like a good hysterical anti-Ashcroft rant as much as the next guy, but this article is full of "mays." This is a pilot program that might not fly, if you'll excuse the two airport puns.

This doesn't mean that we should fight against it, decry it, and use it as further evidence that Big Brother has lost his mind. (especially if he is going to be able to prevent somebody from flying due to poor credit ratings or a questionable shopping history at Amazon) However, this is not quite as big a deal at the moment.

Indeed, I believe that this is sort of like how gas companies temporarily raise the prices to $2.50 so that we think we're getting a deal when it is $2.00. In other words, perhaps by making us all think that they are going to institute this appalling restriction on our freedom, they will be able to slip in a law that restricts our freedom less drastically. (but restricts our freedom none-the-less)
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:44 PM on September 9, 2003


I've got to say that compared to what's to come, I think the current system works fine. (Comparatively)

After all, since September 11, how many hijackings have their been of US planes in US airspace?

Metafilter - We're like Chicken Little, only blue.

(No, before you all go jumping all over my ass like you normally do around here, I don't think that this program is: A) A good idea B) Useful C) Constitutional, but I may be wrong on C)

Also some more fun with numbers, mmkay?

Estimated number of Al Qaeda members in the US: 5,000

Somehow, I don't think that pulling 10000 people a day off of planes is going to help find those 5k. Nor do I think that the 1% figure is accurate, rather I bet it's either 1% of 8% (as suggested by Mr_Crash_Davis) (Which is still nontrivial) or that the reporter misunderstood .01%, as many reporters go to journalism school because they can't do math (or so P. J. O'Rourke tells us...)
posted by swerdloff at 12:46 PM on September 9, 2003


Yeah, I think the colours white, brown and darker brown weren't quite clear enough.

I've been planning a trip to NYC for a while now, despite all the horrendously scary shit that appears to be going down in the US. This is the final straw - I'm fucked if I'm going to be treated like a suspect just for getting on a plane at Heathrow. The US can stick this up their collective arse.


I opposed this proposed system. But, it needs to pointed that several so called democracies in Europe (including the UK and France) have similar systems already in place. So I guess you have always been treated like a suspect for getting on a plain at Heathrow. (exit troll stage left)
posted by Bag Man at 12:56 PM on September 9, 2003


Rainbaby, a couple of months ago some guys in a boat got lost in Jamaica Bay and finally stumbled ashore. They didn't know exactly where they were. They wandered around, unconfronted, for a while. I can't remember if they found the authorities or the authorities found them, but the upshot was that they had landed their boat undetected beside the landing strip of JFK Airport. They would have had plenty of time to sabotage a runway.
posted by Holden at 12:58 PM on September 9, 2003


don't worry... i've found a loophole !!
posted by adamms222 at 12:58 PM on September 9, 2003


Great. Cause, you know there is no other form of terrorism. Rental trucks and the USPS are perfectly safe, and always will be. All we need to do is protect the planes.

This has nothing to do with being "PC". This is just bad security.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:59 PM on September 9, 2003


One more number-crunch:

According to this article, 19 million passengers filtered through Baltimore-Washington International Airport in 2002. Under this measure, 190,000 to 380,000 of those passengers would have been turned away. Allowing for multiple trips per passenger, you're still probably well over 100,000 banned, and if the actual number of banned passengers is 0.01%, we're still talking about 10 or 20k -- at a single airport. And BWI isn't even close to the busiest in the country.

This is scary.
posted by me3dia at 1:04 PM on September 9, 2003


Great, now the terrorists will be taking the bus.
posted by jonmc at 1:06 PM on September 9, 2003


Ok, I read the comments before the article, and was convinced everyone here was overreacting. But as I read the article each line was worse than the next. This bit near the end is particularly heinous. Describing the way the 'codes' are derived:

The first will match the passenger's name and information against databases of private companies that collect information on people for commercial reasons, such as their shopping habits.

Um. WTF !
So, what sort of shopping habits will trigger a "red" code? Or in other words how could that information be relevant or even accessible?
posted by jeremias at 1:06 PM on September 9, 2003


What makes this so staggering is how the likelyhood of another 9/11-style attack occuring would be close to nil even if we were at pre-9/11 security procedures. The airports are wasting money on security systems because the average American air traveller has become part of it.

Be it their own subconscious racism, or a larger "everyone could be bad" paranoia, half the people flying airplanes in this country deputize themselves as Federal Air Marshalls the minute the captain turns off the no-smoking sign. The only thing that suprises me about the "national mood" post 9/11 vis-a-vis airplanes has been not Americans' fear, but rather their restraint towards potential terrorist incidents. Jesus, a month after the attacks my worry was that if someone coughed too loudly on an airline they've find themselves in traction after half the cabin jumps them like a soccer goalie.

We make this huge deal about the passengers of airlines and seemingly ignore what the terrorists are likely really doing: finding other means now that they've exhausted this one. This country has miles of train track shipping nuclear waste to Arizona, countless bus stops and subway stations devoid of any security beyond rent-a-cops. And every box-cutter removed from every Delta flight from here to Europe doesn't change what would happen if a shoulder-armed missile was launched into the side of it. Funds are being wasted that could go toward anti-terrorism for the purpose of intimidating normal civilians.

The fact is if I ever thought there really was going to be another major terrorist attack in the U.S., I'd want to be on an airplane because it seems like it would be the safest damn place on earth.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:07 PM on September 9, 2003


On a side note, does anyone else read the "Ask the Pilot" column on salon.com?

Here's a quote from last week's column regarding the Dubai airport (DBX):

"If anything strikes me pleasantly about the airport, it's the quick, nonsense-free security screening. No pointless I.D. checks, no fetishizing of pointy objects, no annoying shoe removals -- just two fast trips through the X-ray scanners and a 30-second scrutiny at passport control. "

I wonder what DBX's red flag rate is?
posted by small_ruminant at 1:10 PM on September 9, 2003


Ryvar,

I'm with you, and I fly twice a week and have every week for the past year (in and out of NYC any number of times included).

Oh, and my credit sucks and I've said things publicly that are unflattering about the President. I'm guessing that pretty much makes me a yellow.
--
What's a sure sign of a police state? Police checkpoints at internal borders.
posted by wah at 1:18 PM on September 9, 2003


Number of travellers in a given day: Couple million.
One percent of travellers in a given day: Tens of thousands.
Number of wanted axe murderers: Approximately zero.


The look on Shrub's face when he doesn't get re-elected? Priceless. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 1:20 PM on September 9, 2003


So the logical next step might be to make the non-green passengers wear something to make them more identifiable. I don't know...how about an armband with a yellow star? (Presumably a red star wouldn't be needed since the exceptionally non-green would just be taken out back and shot.)
posted by 327.ca at 1:20 PM on September 9, 2003


Thanks Holden, I missed that story, and the article didn't elaborate. I envisioned old straw hats blowing over the runways.
posted by rainbaby at 1:21 PM on September 9, 2003


This is a pilot program that might not fly, if you'll excuse the two airport puns.

I am of the belief that things like this are leaked in an effort to gauge public opinion. It is therefore imperative that those who disagree with it be as vocal as possible. (Note: My quoting Joey Michaels' comment does not imply that I disagree with it. I'm just using that statement as a launch point for my own comment.)
posted by jpoulos at 1:31 PM on September 9, 2003


Soon, the government and the travel industry may be able to find out everything naughty and nice about you before you board your flight.
posted by homunculus at 1:40 PM on September 9, 2003


XQUZYPHYR is right - the next major terrorist attack will be on a Wal-Mart in Akron, Ohio, or some spent-fuel reprocessing plant in the Nevada desert. We'll see who in this country feels safe after that.

Of course, if they really really wanted to fuck us in the head, imagine what the response would be to another plane hijacking, or a little dirty bomb in downtown Manhattan.

This country would go ballistic. Absolutely apeshit. You think things are bad now.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:45 PM on September 9, 2003


All you math whizzes are assuming that the 1-2% figure of reds will stay constant over time. That's highly unlikely. Unless someone who gets coded red is really stupid or really masochistic, they'll stop trying to get on airplanes after the first time they're arrested.

...or won't be able to, after they've been "disappeared" to Guantanamo Bay.
posted by Slothrup at 1:49 PM on September 9, 2003


for those wishing to take that plunge
I'll take that plunge!

After all, I regularly get on trains even though somebody could have tampered with the tracks, and there are hundreds of unchecked people on board. I get into taxis, without verifying the driver's criminal history or the validity of his license. I eat at restaurants with no proof that a terrorist isn't serving me biological agents (and one of my favorite restaurants is owned by a SYRIAN). I shop in malls that don't have metal, explosive or drug detectors. I regularly drive on highways and am actually able to spot drunk drivers, who could easily lose control and kill me. I give my cars away to valets, parking lot attendants, car wash employees and mechanics without ever verifying that they haven't made my car likely to crash or explode.

Why is getting on a plane so different? Yes, if something goes wrong I'll surely die... but so what. There are too many ways to die for me to worry about all of them. I'm just trying to concern myself with my favorite way to live.
posted by mosch at 1:50 PM on September 9, 2003


Hey, sign me up for the no-profile flight. Post-9/11, there will never, ever be another hijacking of a U.S. plane. The passengers won't allow it. Some nut could still try to blow up the plane, but you know, there's perfectly good, unobstrusive technology to screen for that now.
posted by mkultra at 1:53 PM on September 9, 2003


If this plan is actually implemented, it will establish a very disturbing precedent in eroding what have long been pretty much basic American freedoms.

Seems to be a lot of grasping at straws in Washington these days.

I've been following homeland security issues closely because I will be speaking in October in DC on homeland security and the defense of the nation's infrastructure. My presentation will be bracketed by lectures from the Director of the United States Secret Service, and the Homeland Security Director, CSC, amongst others. I hope I can find an opportunity to solicit these officials regarding their opinion on this project, or on some of the other anti-terrorist schemes talked up around the Beltway lately. Mostly because I'd like to understand what is motivating sane people to propose a few of the more amazing schemes I've heard floated from the capitol.


Yes, we have an inviolable duty to secure the nation. Trouble is that even a measure like locking up the entire populace out of fear and/or shiftlessness wouldn't deter a truly determined terrorist organization from launching an attack on American soil, including an event involving an aircraft. "Can" doesn't at all justify "should." And we have some serious security issues to address...cosmetic xenophobic projects don't help us get to the heart of what is required.

Here's a simple question: What exactly is the TSA trying to achieve...and what will these new restrictions actually achieve?

I commute to work as a security consultant...mostly by airplane. I will without fail always seek out exactly those "unprofiled" flights where there are more standard Bill of Rights freedoms for travellers, and less hysterical intrusion imposed to little or no benefit.

I suppose that is because I believe that "land of the free" is indivisible from "home of the brave."

The real problem is we're not dealing with the real problems. Perhaps because our domestic security troubles are extremely complex, and the solutions are time-consuming, not easily expressed in a sound byte, and require a high level of dedication by a cadre of well-informed, even-handed global security diplomats and experts.

In the absence of real risk management, all too often what we get are slothful profiling schemes and ineffective exercises in "duct tape and plastic" shielding and Cipro-based biodefense facades.

And, yes...if this is the trajectory of how we continue to react to the 911 attack, what will be the escalation if another terrorist attack in the US is successful?
posted by Dunvegan at 2:03 PM on September 9, 2003


Just as an paranoid aside: what, exactly, stops them from implementing a similar system - you know, just to make sure you're not sitting next to a terrorist or axe murderer - on trains and buses? I'm sure nobody could object too strenously to being "profiled" upon buying a train or bus ticket. Could they? Maybe a few random bus and train "inspections" every so often by the police, making sure you've got a valid right to travel ... after all, travel is a luxury and not a right :)
posted by kaemaril at 2:26 PM on September 9, 2003


"Mom why are we driving to Toronto if we're going to fly to London?"

"Well Timmy, your father borrowed some books the government doesn't agree with and we don't want any trouble at the airport."

"Oh, ok. What books were they?"

"I don't remember, something about the constitution and the founding fathers."

"Honey, dont forget I packed your suicide pill in your bag in case border patrol drags you off to Cuba for torture."
posted by skallas at 2:33 PM on September 9, 2003


Kaemaril, now you opened a can of worms.
posted by agregoli at 2:34 PM on September 9, 2003


...or a little dirty bomb in downtown Manhattan.

Considering the state of some of the subway stations, this wouldn't make much of a difference.
posted by bshort at 2:43 PM on September 9, 2003


ACLU Legislative Update: The Five Problems With CAPPS II: Why the Airline Passenger Profiling Proposal Should Be Abandoned.

1. The Black Box: Americans Judged In Secret
2. Effectiveness: This System Will Not Make Us Any Safer
3. Mission Creep: Build It And It Will Grow
4. Due Process: No Notification, No Correction, No Appeal
5. Discriminatory impact: the potential for systematic unequal treatment
posted by madamjujujive at 2:48 PM on September 9, 2003


Hellza, peeps, you keep saying "How many US flights were hijacked after 9-11."

Think on this: how many domestic US flights were hijacked in the two (three?) decades before 9-11?

Answer, AFAIK: none.

There were a few hijackings and bombed international flights leaving from North America, but I believe the only domestic hijacked flights were the ones that happened on 9-11.

In essence, there has never been and will never again be a problem with US domestic air flights being hijacked.

You people need to get very politically active to make sure you end up with the sort of government and culture that you want. If you don't, you're heading for a real scary time.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:56 PM on September 9, 2003


Dunvegan, you are my new hero, for real. And I mean that in the absolutely least sarcastic way possible.

In other news, how's that whole Amtrak going out of business thing going? I don't suppose it would make any sense to pump any of this airport security money into bettering the national train system. Hell, if I was in charge, I'd take a chunk of that proposed $87 billion for Iraq and use it to build a cross-country pneumatic tube setup, but that's just me.
posted by majcher at 3:16 PM on September 9, 2003


Anyone here have any alternate ideas? Workable homeland security proposals?
posted by swerdloff at 3:19 PM on September 9, 2003


First, this is not an Ashcroft issue, for this idea came out of the Transportation Security Administration (Admiral Loy) within the Department of Homeland Security (Secretary Ridge). CAPPS II is the newest version of a former Federal Aviation Administration program and Congress required the FAA, now TSA, to upgrade it with a law that was passed prior to September 11.

The "random" searches that are now performed on Grandma are complete waste of time and effort and do nothing to make air travel safer. I say shove political correctness and start profiling now!

Actually, don’t be so quick to trust your statistical intuition—read the MIT paper Carnival Booth which is gaining circulation (shorter article about the paper here). Essentially, researchers are saying that random searches are more likely to catch terrorists, for patterned searches can be tested and gamed by the terrorists. That is, terrorists can easily test whether they fit the “no-fly” profile by simply taking a flight and seeing whether or not they’re stopped. Of course, if the researchers are right, the program’s a waste of money, besides a privacy invasion.

By the way, the company that helped TSA pilot-test the system, Delta, suffered a boycott for running CAPPS II . Delta bailed on TSA.

In other words, the first step entails checking your credit report from a credit bureau (Equifax, Experian or Trans Union)…

TSA has explicitly stated it will not be using credit reports to keep a person off a plane. However, if it were, the Fair Credit Reporting Act would give people due process rights that would prevent TSA from injuring them (i.e. banning them from flight) without first allowing them to review and correct the credit report information. The government is similarly held accountable for the information it retains, because of the Privacy Act.

... or your dossier from Acxiom or Innovis Data Solutions.

This is more troubling, for what law covers the accuracy of this data? As far as I know (still researching) there is none, unless TSA keeps the data in its files, which would trigger the Privacy Act. But my understanding is that TSA doesn’t plan to keep the data but to let it evaporate after use.
posted by win_k at 3:44 PM on September 9, 2003


Where does security begin and freedom end? What will happen if this security system is used for political enemies? What will happen to the american populace that can't even trust itself?
posted by Keyser Soze at 5:04 PM on September 9, 2003


Brilliant way to help the airline industry out of its slump!

I'm thinking I'll drive the 20 hours each way to go home for Christmas this year.
posted by Foosnark at 5:26 PM on September 9, 2003


win_k: according to the CAPP privacy notice, the government plans to keep your data on file for fifty years.
posted by mosch at 5:26 PM on September 9, 2003


1% of 8% is 0.08%.

So for that 100,000 people running through Miami-Dade on a typical Saturday, the system will finger 80 as 'red flag.'

There are roughly 281,000,000 people in the US, according to the last US census. If we take the estimate of 5,000 al-Quaeda members at face value, that's roughly 0.0017%.

So of those 80 people fingered on Saturday at Miami-Dade, 1.7 of them are terrorists-- that's only 2.2% of the fingered people. Even if we double the estimated terrorist numbers, that's still only 3 people out of 80.

That day.

At that one airport.
posted by Cerebus at 5:32 PM on September 9, 2003


you know, if they keep this shit up, they'll undoubtedly turn a significant number of otherwise normal citizens into exactly the sort of raging murderous airline bombers they already suppose we all are.
posted by quonsar at 5:43 PM on September 9, 2003


quonsar, I recommend the excellent short story "the saboteur" I think you'd like it.
posted by cell divide at 5:49 PM on September 9, 2003


Enthusiastically locking, re-drilling, steel-plating, concrete-reinforcing, electronic-id-checker-installing and security-guarding the barn door after the horse has bolted.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:59 PM on September 9, 2003


But the horse hasn't bolted. There was a mouse that got into a bag of feed, but it got killed when the bag toppled over. There might be more mice in the barn, but the cats learned their lesson and have become excellent mousers, so that shouldn't be a problem for long.

Locking the steel-plated, concrete-reinforced, security-guarded door will certainly keep the cats from coming and going, but it certainly isn't going to do much about the mice, which are reknown for their ability to squeeze through the smallest crack.

Should just shoot the damn horse and be done with farming.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:03 PM on September 9, 2003


Cerebus, the interesting thing about those numbers is that they suggest that 1.7 terrorists per day are already flying through Miami-Dade. 1 or 2, every day. And nothing's getting blown up.
posted by hattifattener at 9:39 PM on September 9, 2003


The government controls the media. There are two planes per day being hijacked out of Miami-Dade, they're just not telling anyone!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:01 PM on September 9, 2003


I just realized the biggest issue... this thing works off of name, address and phone number. I bet there's a felon named john smith with unknown address and phone... and you might be him!
posted by mosch at 10:46 PM on September 9, 2003


But, it needs to pointed that several so called democracies in Europe (including the UK and France) have similar systems already in place. So I guess you have always been treated like a suspect for getting on a plain at Heathrow. (exit troll stage left)

Any actual information on this Bag Man?
posted by Summer at 2:18 AM on September 10, 2003


Bag Man, not sure what you're getting at there.
Some extra 'security' measures have been implemented in European airports recently, but they are not comparable with those that a passenger travelling to the US is subjected to.
I cannot comment on how this compares to internal flights in the US as I have not been on one recently.
posted by asok at 4:14 AM on September 10, 2003


hattifattener: Yeah, statistics is fun isn't it? 8)
posted by Cerebus at 5:30 AM on September 10, 2003


Actually, mosch, on page 10 in the .pdf linked to by gimonca: "In response to concerns, the proposal to maintain information about certain individuals for up to 50 years has been deleted. Under the final CAPPS II program, when active, it is anticipated that TSA will delete all records of travel for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent resident aliens not more than a certain number of days after the safe completion of their travel itinerary."
posted by win_k at 5:43 AM on September 10, 2003


TSA has explicitly stated it will not be using credit reports to keep a person off a plane.
Wrong. That's not what the TSA says. The TSA says it "will not use bank records, records indicating creditworthiness or medical records." What that means is that the TSA will use what's called a "credit header" -- identifying info that the credit bureaus compile about consumers. A credit header doesn't contain a credit score or credit history.
That sounds benign. But credit bureaus confuse people and mix credit records all the time. Have you ever known a Senior who got a collection letter meant for a Junior? Have you ever applied for credit and discovered a phantom bankruptcy on your credit report -- a bankruptcy that belongs to someone else, but ended up on your report? These mix-ups have happened to people I know, and they probably have happened to you or someone you know.
How much do you want to bet that these victims of sloppy credit reporting will be given, at the least, a yellow flag because CAPPS II can't verify their identity? It will happen to a lot of people, because the main point of CAPPS II is to verify passengers' identities. And they'll do it using notoriously unreliable information from credit bureaus.
However, if it were, the Fair Credit Reporting Act would give people due process rights that would prevent TSA from injuring them (i.e. banning them from flight) without first allowing them to review and correct the credit report information.
Nope. That's not how it will work. You won't be allowed on the plane, and it will leave without you, and you will be escorted out of the airport if you don't leave on your own accord. Then you'll be invited to contest the inaccurate information in your credit file. The credit bureau will have 30 days to verify it. In the meantime, have a nice drive!
posted by Holden at 5:48 AM on September 10, 2003


A quick note on everyone's statistics: you can't just do the numbers against the general population of the U.S. Not everyone flies. A much smaller percentage of the populace (business travelers) covers, I presume, the vast majority of passengers. In addition, almost everyone flies more than once. You can't treat the numbers like unique visitors.
posted by mkultra at 7:17 AM on September 10, 2003


I'm a bit worried about this myself given our political leanings and a conference/job-hunt flight to California next month. The spouse has one civil disobedience arrest (back in the days in which police and protesters actually had a civil relationship.) And bad credit due to a medical disaster last year probably does not look good. (Although a mortgage on a crumbling house probably looks better than a blank.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:52 AM on September 10, 2003


Holden, I completely agree with you that using private sector data, whether from marketers or credit bureaus, can lead to identity mix-ups and other problems. I have no particular faith in the credit bureaus to provide accurate information. And there's no doubt the government data sources have errors, too, though I hope less often.

However, if TSA is not using "records indicating creditworthiness", why do you write about miss-assigned bankruptcies and collection letters? The part of credit reports that's most famous for damaging errors--the financial part--will not be searched, so don't jerk that emotional string.

You raise an interesting point about the credit header (names, addresses, phone, DOB—things that are public record already via DMVs, etc.—and SSN) loophole, though. Looks like the Fair Credit Reporting Act does not yet protect that portion of the credit file.

But the Act does protect the creditworthiness parts. My experience with TSA and the Fair Credit Reporting Act has been that TSA does not use the credit report to take adverse action against a person (for example, to terminate an employee undergoing a background check) without first sending an interrogatory letter giving the person 14 days to contest the report. I don’t think TSA’s doing that out of the goodness of its heart—I think there’s a legal requirement there, though the Act doesn’t specify a 14-day window anywhere and I’m having a challenge tracking down the parallel regulations.
posted by win_k at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2003


fenriq : "fifty mile high wall...."

Chappatte cartoonist shared a brainwave with you the other day.
posted by dabitch at 10:33 AM on September 10, 2003


About the "Carnival Booth" paper. The paper points out that non-random screening can be reverse-engineered, something that the people designing CAPPS II should keep in mind. The paper, though, is entirely amateurish in its analysis, and fails to point out that if CAPPS II is sufficiently accurate, organizations will have a hard time finding conspirators who pass the screening. Yes, if they *do* find an old grandma with perfect credit† willing to sneak some weapons onto a plane, then she will have a slightly better chance of success than under a completely uniformly random selection process. "Carnival Booth" makes no attempt, however, to quantify the unconditional probabilities of success under uniformly random vs. profiled screening. The gaming aspect isn't quite as troubling as the paper makes it out to be, particularly since (AFAIK) some random selection for increased scrutiny will still take place.

However, the list of concerns from the ACLU are certainly worth considering. As is alternative transportation. Count me in the plunging group...

[†or the analogue for whatever data they're using]
posted by dilettanti at 3:50 PM on September 10, 2003


Oops. Correction. The Carnival Booth paper has been updated since last I read it. They now mention that the non-random process can be more effective if the CAPPS process is accurate enough. The paper is still full of wild and arbitrary assumptions, though. "Since second level searches are presumably more effective than first level searches, our system arbitrarily sets Pr(A | R) at 75 percent and Pr(A | ¬ (R U C)) at 25 percent for the first two systems." I'd still be wary of basing opinions of CAPPS too heavily on the paper's results.
posted by dilettanti at 3:58 PM on September 10, 2003


The carnival Booth paper aside, a test's error rate must be at least as low as the incidence of the condition in the population tested for before it can be statistically significant, else the false positives will swamp the true positives.

In other words, if terrorists are ~0.0017% of the population, then the CAPPS system must be 99.9983% accurate.

Somehow I doubt that.
posted by Cerebus at 4:51 PM on September 10, 2003


That, of course, assumes you actually care that the false positives are swamping out the true positives...
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 PM on September 10, 2003


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