excerpt from my book on technology, terrorism, and
DHS, tentatively titled "Skating on Stilts." (If you want to
read the excerpts in a more coherent fashion, try the categories on the
right labeled "Excerpts from the book." I'm afraid I can't fix the bug
in TypePad that prevents me from putting them in the category in
reverse-chronological order, but I have started putting chapters up in
pdf form from time to time.) Comments and factual quibbles
are welcome, either in the comments section or by email:
firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're dying to order the book, send
mail to the same address.
“This system threatens to create a permanent blacklisted underclass of Americans who cannot travel freely,” an ACLU counsel told USA Today in February 2003. Another declared that CAPPS II would “give the government an opening to create the kind of Big Brother program that Americans rejected so resoundingly in the Pentagon,” a swipe at Adm. Poindexter.
By June 2003 the organization had filed suit to block the program. By August a left-right privacy coalition was lobbying against it. And by September, just two years after 9/11, the privacy groups had won. Congressional appropriators stopped the program dead in its tracks, prohibiting implementation of any such program until the General Accountability Office certified that ten strict conditions had been met.
DHS spent the next five years trying to meet those requirements. Finally, in late 2008, DHS announced that it was launching Secure Flight, a pale imitation of the original program that gave TSA access to no traveler information other than name, gender, and birthdate.
Even then, GAO demonstrated that it had learned the facts of life in Washington – you can’t go wrong overestimating the clout of the privacy machine. Knowing that it would never be criticized for refusing to certify compliance, GAO declared that TSA had met only nine out of ten requirements and let the appropriators deem that sufficient to begin Secure Flight. To its credit, the Obama Administration did not treat that as an excuse to delay the program; it continued to roll out Secure Flight in 2009.
But if you’ve wondered why, eight years after 9/11, we’re still looking for weapons and not for terrorists, now you know. Privacy advocates turned the use of even ordinary data like travel reservations into the policy equivalent of a toxic waste site. No one wanted to go anywhere near it, and those who did rarely survived the experience.