Captain's Quarters Blog

« New Leak Investigation Ordered By Judge | Main | Do Electronic Voting Machines Pose A Threat To Democracy? »

August 22, 2006
Airline Data Still Out Of Reach Five Years After 9/11

The US and European governments want to gain greater access to customer data from airlines and reservation companies to detect patterns and connections that might identify terrorists before they strike. Predictably, civil libertarians have objected as they have in the past, even with the exposure of the latest terror plot against transatlantic flights.

Does this sound like a chapter in a future post-attack commission report?

A proposal by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would allow the United States government not only to look for known terrorists on watch lists, but also to search broadly through the passenger itinerary data to identify people who may be linked to terrorists, he said in a recent interview.

Similarly, European leaders are considering seeking access to this same database, which contains not only names and addresses of travelers, but often their credit card information, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and related hotel or car reservations. ...

The proposals, prompted by the recent British bomb-plot allegations, have inspired a new round of protests from civil libertarians and privacy experts, who had objected to earlier efforts to plumb those repositories for clues.

“This is a confirmation of our warnings that once you let the camel’s nose under the tent, it takes 10 minutes for them to want to start expanding these programs in all different directions,” said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The US wants to conduct targeted searches on the data available to reservation agents and the airlines, provided voluntarily by the travelers. With flagged names as a starting point, intelligence agencies and law-enforcement personnel could explore links to other names and destinations, and then start tracking the travel connections used by suspected terrorists and their associates. The US and other nations could add these people to no-fly lists and block the travel of suspected terrorists and their sympathizers into our nations.

Critics complain that the natural progression of these efforts would create vast databases of personal information on millions of people who have no connection to terrorism. However, that misses the point, at least to an extent. The databases already exist, and the data is already provided by those who travel by air. The government wants to gain access to private databases, presumably without warrants, in order to find travel connections to known terrorists and those suspected of material support.

Moreoever, the government would not want to keep its own data on these transactions. The private sector does this better than the government would, and it would represent unnecessary duplication. Besides, the most efficient use of databases creates the need to exclude data, not maintain ever-expanding databases of inapplicable information. Investigations work more efficiently by sorting and searching targeted information.

In less than a month, we will observe the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in the US. The terrorists used our airliners as guided missiles, exploiting our own transportation system to kill us by the thousands. This very month, we discovered that they still plot to kill us with our airplanes. One would think that Americans would understand the critical need to garner as much information about our enemies to keep more Americans from dying in terrorist attacks. The reluctance to allow for these common-sense investigative techniques puts lives at risk. At some point, we will have another attack, another bipartisan commission, and another round of scolding over a failure to "connect the dots". If our defenders cannot gain access to the dots, how the hell are they supposed to connect them?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 22, 2006 6:05 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry is


Design & Skinning by:
m2 web studios

blog advertising


Proud Ex-Pat Member of the Bear Flag League!