July 23, 2007
U.S. Homeland Security to Europeans: tell us your secrets and we’ll let you in
I’ve written before about the ridiculousness in which the Department of Homeland Security and TSA engage in the name of safety and security. (And it’s clearly working, because we haven’t had any terrorists attacks here since 9/11! Also, I have a bridge you might be interested in buying!)
This might well take the cake, though (at least until a few months from now, when they try something new and even worse):
Highly sensitive information about the religious beliefs, political opinions and even the sex life of Britons travelling to the United States is to be made available to US authorities when the European Commission agrees to a new system of checking passengers.
The EC is in the final stages of agreeing a new Passenger Name Record system with the US which will allow American officials to access detailed biographical information about passengers entering international airports.
Because, what, conservative Muslims who don’t have much sex are potentially terrorists and ought to be detained? Or maybe it’s the oversexed atheists who enjoy Dungeons & Dragons and Harry Potter? What, exactly, is this new plan going to accomplish that previous, presumably less offensive, plans did not? There are a few more details further down in the article:
The new agreement will see US authorities gain access to detailed passenger information, from credit card details to home addresses and even what sort of food may have been ordered before a flight. In addition, US authorities will be free to add other information they have obtained about a passenger, leading to concerns about how the information will be shared.
So, what, if I were a Briton and asked for the Kosher or vegetarian meal, might I get a little flag in my file? Also, are terrorists or suspected/alleged terrorists really likely to make relevant purchases on credit cards that can be easily traced? And there’s more on the potential for misuse of the information (emphasis added):
In a strongly worded document drawn up in response to the plan that will affect the 4 million-plus Britons who travel to the US every year, the EU parliament said it ‘notes with concern that sensitive data (ie personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health or sex life of individuals) will be made available to the DHS and that these data may be used by the DHS in exceptional cases’.
Under the new agreement, which goes live at the end of this month, the US will be able to hold the records of European passengers for 15 years compared with the current three year limit. The EU parliament said it was concerned the data would lead to ‘a significant risk of massive profiling and data mining, which is incompatible with basic European principles and is a practice still under discussion in the US congress.’
I’d like to think that statements like these would make the DHS reconsider its stance, but I’m not going to hold my breath. We might as well alienate all of our allies, eh?