Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On the Department of Why Isn't Everyone More Pissed Off About This?: Friendly Skies edition

Okay, so everyone has heard the "he who would sacrifice liberty for security" quote over and over again, and we've all been grateful for the government taking that out of our hands - if we don't have liberty in the first place, we don't need to sacrifice it for security.

For instance, if you really want to keep terr'ists from flying in on airplanes, it shouldn't bother you that much if the government should choose to track your every movement in a carefully-organized database.
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.

The ATS has actually been in place since the mid-90s, but it was beefed up in 2002 when the Department of Homeland Security determined that nothing threatens the freedom of red-blooded Americans so much as red-blooded Americans exercising their freedom.

DHS spokesman Russ Knocke "flatly reject[s] the premise that the department is interested in what travelers are reading," which goes without saying, since all they're doing is keeping meticulous records of what travelers are reading. They're also not interested in your credit-card information, your rental car, and the kind of bed you request at your hotel. The program isn't to establish, Knocke says, "guilt by association;" it's only meant to establish malfeasance based on what you're reading and whom you're sitting next to on the plane.

Having an encyclopedic record of your favorite vacation destinations, travel buddies, reading materials, vibrator preferences, snack foods, and Sleep Number settings might be considered intrusive if our government did things like, oh, spying on peace groups, environmentalist groups, feminist groups, and religious gatherings as wicked dissenters and potential threats to our government. Good thing our government would never do anything like that.

Which means there's no reason for everyone to be pissed off about this.

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