Monday, March 10, 2003

Beware of CAPPS II

Further to my post last week on Delta Airlines volunteering to be the first carrier to host this monstrous misaplication of technology, I have looked to see who else, besides crypto-libertarians and reactionary conservatives, thinks that this unwarranted intrusion into our lives and privacy is warranted.

In Pakistan, the Daily Times has a piece that reports the folly of this program. As they have it:
Like Total Information Awareness, CAPPS II is apparently based on the belief that you can find a needle in a haystack by adding more hay to the stack.
Slashdot has been on this story since February 28th. Wired has been on the story since Wednesday.

To me, the really frightening thing is the opacity of the program. There is no provision for geting a look at your dossier, or correcting any mistakes that your file might contain. Not to mention the effect that all of these inquiries on your credit record will do to your credit rating. From Wired:
"This system threatens to create a permanent blacklisted underclass of Americans who cannot travel freely,'' said Katie Corrigan, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. "Anyone could get caught up in this system, with no way to get out."

According to a January Federal Register notice containing some details of the program, CAPPS II will store information about those deemed a yellow- or red-level threat for up to 50 years.

Information from files about those individuals could also be shared with other government agencies at the federal, state and local levels, as well as with intelligence agencies such as the CIA and with foreign governments and international agencies -- all of which could use those designations for many purposes, including employment decisions and the granting of government benefits, according to the ACLU.
Obviously the green rating holders will have little problem with the system, and the red ratings will go to criminals and supposed terrorists, who will probably not question the findings. But what of the yellows? There is no publicly available description of what the qualifications are for the various ratings. And there has been no showing that any of this will make us one bit safer in any case.

There are, of course, those who say that this is all just a tempest in a teapot - that these questions will all be ironed out in the fullness of time. Just trust in the government; they have our best interests at heart. But I don't buy any of that. Like TIPPS, Ashcroft and company just put these things into effect in the middle of the night, and then seem surprised that anyone noticed. And don't tell me that the details just slipped through the cracks, and will be picked up later. The opacity of the program is no mistake, it is expressly provided for. They have already begun compiling these dossiers on Americans, who have no right to inspect their files, and no way to correct errors... not even an explanation of what, exactly, might be on one's credit history that flags you as a terroristic threat. Don't listen to me. Listen to Kaleem Omar from Pakistan
The chilling vision of the future painted by George Orwell in his 1949 novel ?Nineteen Eighty-Four? with its ?Big Brother Is Watching You? slogan seems to be well on its way to coming true not in some totalitarian country with a despotic regime but in George W Bush’s United States of America, which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has now reached the point where a total surveillance society has not only become a realistic possibility but a likelihood, unless the public fights back.

?From government watch lists to secret wiretaps, Americans are unknowingly becoming targets of government surveillance,? said Dorothy Ehrlich, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California. ?It is dangerous for a democracy that government power goes unchecked and for this reason it is imperative that our government be made accountable.?
It is not surprising that a government will attempt to take on more power, if it has the chance. And the events of 9/11 have given them the chance. It is up to us, the citizens, to stay viligant. And don't, whatever else you do, ever give an airline ticket writer your social security number. Delta Airlines is the first. Boycott Delta. We can stop this thing. It's up to us. We have no one else to blame if we go meekly along.