Secure flight: Just the facts

Here we go again. The opportunistic privacy advocates and well-meaning consumer travel watchdogs have got their feathers all ruffled up over disclosures that the TSA’s Secure Flight program has essentially created a secret database of travelers and assigned each of us a “terror score.”

Here are the cold facts about the database, known as the Automated Targeting System.

Basically, the government is collecting data from passenger and crew manifests, immigration control information, and reservations data such as your name, address, flight, seat number and other information collected by the airline in connection with a particular reservation.

Sounds pretty harmless, right? I mean, this is information that a lot of other people, including your best friend, spouse, travel agent and doctor have. Why not also the government?

I completely understand the concern. What if the feds build this enormous database and then assign you a “secret” terror score that is erroneous or unjustified, and you can’t appeal it? That’s a legitimate worry. That needs to be addressed, of course.

But here’s what ruffles my feathers. Can any one of these critics tell me, please, how the government is supposed to protect us from the bad guys? Should we open up the terror database and show everyone — including the villains — the goods that we’ve got on them?

Here’s something else that bothers me. In all the media coverage of Secure Flight and ATS, I’ve read almost nothing about the initiatives meant to screen cars and cargo. (Oh yeah, it does that, too.)

Once again, thanks to our media’s unhealthy obsession with airplanes, the concerns of millions of motorists have been ignored.

Related story:   9 cities with the worst traffic jams

Like I’ve always said, if you put wings on cars, the media might actually begin to cover auto travel.

What do you think of Secure Flight and ATS? Is Big Brother finally here? Or are we overreacting? Post your comments, please.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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