"This is not something I'm doing lightly, or that I'm doing every day, or that I like doing," said Hasbrouck, who has long been the U.S. media's go-to guy on the subject of traveling travails. But "I think it's important for people to know about this surveillance program, and to understand what kind of dossiers are being kept, and how that information is being used."
The surveillance program in question is called the Automated Targeting System.
It requires airlines to collect information on travelers. The
government then analyzes and cross-references that information in search
of terrorists and other possible law-breakers. The project bears
ATS standardizes names, addresses, conveyance names, and similar data so these
elements can be more easily associated with other business data and
personal information to form a more complete picture of a traveler,
import, or export in context with previous behavior of the parties
involved. Every traveler and all shipments are processed through ATS,
and are subject to a real-time rule based evaluation
"This is a guilt-by-association machine," he said. "Let's say they say you're linked to terrorists. What does that mean? Today, being linked to terrorist could mean you stayed at the same hotel and used the same phone number. Due to these mirror associations, you are going to be subjected to interrogations, or be prevented from traveling."
The government isn't the only entity in a position to abuse this information. Airlines are required to collect this information from international travelers, and the government doesn't adequately prevent those companies from using the information themselves. Hasbrouck theorizes the information could be valuable to companies wishing to track the voyages of a competitor's sales staff, as a form of industrial espionage.
"There is a lot of stuff that shows our associations with other people. That includes friends' phone numbers, or the place we were staying when we confirmed a flight.
I've seen one person's file that shows not merely who they were travelling with, and the other person's gender, but whether they asked for one bed or two in a hotel room, because their hotel was booked through the same reservation as their flight. The airline, and the government, can look behind your hotel room seeing who's sleeping with who."
J. Edgar Hoover might have been proud.
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