The United States and the European Union have agreed to expand a security program that shares personal data about millions of U.S.-bound airline passengers a year, potentially including information about a person’s race, ethnicity, religion and health.
Under the agreement, airlines flying from Europe to the United States are required to provide data related to these matters to U.S. authorities if it exists in their reservation systems. The deal allows Washington to retain and use it only “where the life of a data subject or of others could be imperiled or seriously impaired,” such as in a counterterrorism investigation.
Uh huh. And I wonder who will have oversight to make sure Washington follows the rules. Oh, wait, that’s right. Bushco doesn’t permit oversight.
According to the deal, the information that can be used in such exceptional circumstances includes “racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership” and data about an individual’s health, traveling partners and sexual orientation.
Airlines do not usually gather such data, but officials say it could wind up in passenger files as a result of requests for special services such as wheelchairs, or through routine questioning by airline personnel and travel agents about contacts, lodging, next of kin and traveling companions. Even a request for a king-size bed at a hotel could be noted in the database.
Cheezits! Okay, don’t be asking for a wheelchair to get your 90-year-old mother to the gate. She might have a bomb stowed away in that leg brace. And for God’s sake don’t request a king-size bed! The authorities might twig that you’re part of the Gay Terrorist Brigade. Don’t let on that you’re a Quaker, either. The FBI is probably surveilling the terror cell — I mean Friends Meeting — that you plan to visit during your trip. And don’t show your union card; Wal-Mart might have you busted as a potential organizer. As for that anti-war t-shirt? Well, here in the US it would get you kicked out of a Bush rally. At the airport, it might earn you a trip to Gitmo.
Really, since when is (assumed) sexual orientation an indicator of terror risk? How about disapproval of the Bush administration? Hell, if that’s the criterion, 65% of the American public would be flagged as potential threats. But Michael Chertoff is quick to point at that we could have prevented 9/11 had we only had this information. Yeah, sure.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff praised the pact as an “essential screening tool for detecting potentially dangerous transatlantic travelers.” If available at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Chertoff said, such information would have, “within a matter of moments, helped to identify many of the 19 hijackers by linking their methods of payment, phone numbers and seat assignments.”
John: “Uh huh. Had we only known which way Mohammad Atta swung in bed, maybe then George Bush wouldn’t have gone on vacation for an entire month after having read a memo entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” And in any case, notice how nothing Chertoff is saying has anything to do with your sexual orientation, philosophical beliefs, union status or anything else that is ACTUALLY on the list of info they’re requesting.”