Big Air Is Watching

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Some of you reading this may have already had this experience. You’ve recently flown, probably more than once, by a particular American airline; and a few days later you get a birthday card by email from that airline’s top brass. It’s all very flattering till you ask yourself how the airline knows your birthday.

Think back. Before you could get on the plane, were you asked to comply with the Transportation Security Administration’s new Secure Flight initiative, which requires you to provide your full name as it appears on a government-issued I.D., your date of birth and your gender? There’s your answer.

What you probably don’t know is what the airline does with all that additional passenger data. Ostensibly, it’s to improve your travel and ensure that you’re not misidentified as terrorist, as has sometimes happened whose name is identical with a bad guy on Homeland Security’s no-fly list..

So that’s a good thing, right? Generally yes, except that the airline could use your personal information to send you a card or a promotional offer? That may not be too bad either, but the nagging question is what else they could use it for. For example, what’s to prevent telemarketers getting hold of it? 

The TSA claims that the personal information used for the program is distributed, stored and disposed of according to stringent guidelines and all applicable privacy laws and regulations. Sounds pretty reasonable, except that past experience has shown that almost any information stored on a computer database can be accessed – legally or otherwise – by those whose intentions may not be entirely honorable.

 In theory, you do have a second option. The TSA allows air travelers to refuse to provide the information. However, the downside is that those who object are likely to be subject to additional screening, or even denied boarding. It’s a trade-off that few would risk, I think.

It seems to me that 1984 has been stretching out for more than a quarter century and shows no sign of terminating anytime soon. I guess Big Brother, or Big Air in this case, is here to stay.


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