Wednesday, March 05, 2003

From Now On, I May Have to Take the Train

Bad news for those of us who have been through hard times, messy divorces, layoffs, or other periods of instability. Or who just have a hard time paying bills on time.

From Joe Soucheray, a columnist for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has a new plan in which it intends to check your banking and credit records and then issue you a color-coded rating. If you are green, you are good to go. If you are a red, you don't fly. The people rated yellow will get just a little extra attention.

When I called Tim Anderson, deputy executive director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, to ask him about the program, he said, "What are you asking me for?'' It was the old play on, "Don't ask me, I just work here." Anderson gets his orders, and he follows them. What I wanted to know, for example, was how the color coding was going to be used. He explained it, and I think I understood. If you go red, you become a "selectee.'' The feds would call Anderson, and, depending on the gravity of the red, Anderson would have to involve the FBI. It seems reds wouldn't get off the ground.

The computer checking of passengers — nosing around in your banking and credit histories — would pre-emptively decide if we were going to fly or not and under what color.

According to news reports, the program is called CAPPS II, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System. . . .

Among the many questions that might be asked: What evidence does the government have that the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers had bad credit histories, or even any credit histories? And what does a missed utility bill have to with terrorism as it is practiced by Islamic madmen?

More details from the Washington Post Tech News section:

Under an open-ended contract, Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin will be responsible for creating a computer network that will instantly authenticate the identity of every passenger, match the name against a government watch list, and determine whether that person's background and behavior constitute a terrorist threat.

The system, known as CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II), will rely heavily on commercial data warehouses containing names, telephone numbers, former addresses, financial details and other information about virtually every adult American. It will rate passengers using a color code: red for immediate threats, yellow for people with questionable backgrounds and green for the vast majority. The rating will be given to the airlines for decisions on whether a passenger should be allowed to board or be subjected to additional questioning.

While TSA officials yesterday declined to describe precisely what will determine threats, documents and earlier interviews with people familiar with the network indicate that it will explore whether an individual is "rooted in the community" or matches the terrorist profiles developed by intelligence agencies. Officials said they will not create a central file of passenger information.

In the coming weeks, Lockheed will begin working with International Business Machines Corp., Delta Air Lines and other companies to create a model program and test the classified data network. Officials said they hope it will begin screening all passengers no later than June of next year.

June of *next* year. That's a relief. I can still go home this summer for Jessica's second birthday party.

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