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Feds Undertaking Massive Passenger Profiling Plan 677

Logic Bomb writes: "The Washington Post is running an overview of a rather big-brother-ish airline passenger screening system the government is proposing. Keeping track of people's ticket purchases is one thing, but correlating people's addresses and living arrangements...! This attempt seems closer to completion and implementation than any other that's been proposed so far."
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Feds Undertaking Massive Passenger Profiling Plan

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  • by reemul ( 1554 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:14AM (#2936625)
    ...just buy Doubleclick's database? Those bastards already have most everyone's data. If the gov't is going to collect data like that, they can at least have the decency to do it on the cheap and not add insult to injury by spending huge amounts of my tax money on it.

  • I hope this isn't the start of what could turn into an internal visa that will apply to all forms of mass transit.
    • by reemul ( 1554 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:49AM (#2936771)
      You're making the same mistake that the US media tends to make when reporting on this issue: tying two unrelated problems together. The government keeping and correlating more information about an individual, and requirements to show ID more often, are entirely separate topics despite how the press - and the civil liberties lobby, sadly - portray them. Every single place that takes a credit card could demand to see a driver's license starting today, without any new laws or any need for the government to gather more data. Or, the gov't could gather more data, without ever having a national ID or requiring anyone to identify themselves at any point. Two entirely distinct issues.

      As an example, France. The French do have national ID papers, but as with most European nations, they strongly limit data gathering by statute. (Of course, given what an amazingly high percentage of the French population works for the gov't in one form or another, any belief that they don't actually go ahead and collect that data anyway is charmingly innocent, but that's another matter.)

      Treating these issues as a unit weakens the arguments against them, to me at least. Most folks in the US don't mind the idea of a national ID card, or even a national driver's license. They'd be annoyed if they had to show it all the time, but the simple combination of the ID's into one system doesn't bother them. Most folks who move between states would be strongly in favor of not having to go through the grief of changing their DL to the new locale. And, sadly, most of the folks in the US are sheep as regards protecting their personal data, so that argument doesn't do much either. I know that the civil liberties folks hope to tie in the idea of gov't lackeys demanding ID checks in hopes of getting the public to get angry with the other issues, too, but I think it's working the other way. Since everyone sees all of these topics tied together, their favor or apathy for some of the issues is becoming favor or apathy for the whole set. Lets keep separate issues separate, and clearly show why each is separately a bad idea. Didn't we all favor suing M$ to get *them* to stop bundling?

      • I have to disagree with you. I believe all these items truely are "a unit." By consolodating ID's under the control of a Federal system, the Federal authrorities don't have to concern themselves with that pesky 10th amendment, where all laws and regulations not specificly outlined in the constitution are reserved to the indivial states. This gives them the power and authority to handle all mater of security, search, seizure and survelience. The bush administration is only exploiting the emotion carried over from the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to greatly expand the power and authority of federal law enforcment over state-run ID systems. I'm sorry to say this, but the first poster is correct. In about 3 years, there will be some gov't goon standing outside all major transit stations asking, "papers please." Anyone who looks suspicious or doesn't have their papers WILL spend some time in jail until their identity and motive can be determined. They won't be arrested of course, but they'll be detained. Don't believe me? Here's a true story. Exactly 4 weeks ago, I returned home from a trip to Bulgaria. (It's a small former communist-controlled coutry just north of Greece.) On my return flight back into the US, there was an elderly German couple standing about 6 feet away from me as we were waiting for our baggage; so we could proceed thru the customs checkpoint. Everyone who enters the US must fill out this little peice of paper where you list the items (food, plants, animals, precious metals etc) you are claiming thru customs. Well, some army punk was walking his "bomb-sniffer" dog among us pasengers as we waited for our baggage. The dog stopped at the German couple, because it could smell a half-eaten chocolate bar. The army punk started given the couple a hard time, and yes, he really did say "Where are your identification documents!" The couple stared pulling out their passports. The army punk didn't care to see the passports, and instead asked "why didn't you declare this food on your customs paper?" And, oh maybe two seconds later, he asked the couple to follow him into some security room nearby. I know everyone reading this will think, "Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. And who cares about some old German people." And if that's your opinion, than so be it. But, interestingly enough, when hitler took over in germany, he expanded the gishtappo (which just happens to be German shothand for "Homeland Security," cute) for fear of attack from other nations -- which lead him to belive that only through strict "zero tolerence" law enforcment and military security will his people be safe from outside agression. (This all happened many years before the war.) Funny how history repeats itself. - Richard.
  • So...? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jwilhelm ( 238084 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:15AM (#2936630) Homepage Journal
    With a little accountability (i.e.: assurances that the data doesn't fall into the wrong hands or is abused) I really don't think this is a bad thing. Look at El Al in Israel -- they have massive amounts of data on passengers and participate in profiling unlike any other airline. Why? Because they HAVE to. After September 11th I feel like we have the same responsability.
    • Re:So...? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Amarok.Org ( 514102 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:20AM (#2936651)
      (i.e.: assurances that the data doesn't fall into the wrong hands or is abused)

      Assurances from whom? The government? Trust us, we're from the government and we're here to help you. Not!

      The often quoted (and probably inaccurate) statement attributed to Benjamin Franklin applies here : He that would trade liberty for security deserves and would receive neither.

      It's all too easy to become complacent about trading away liberties until finally you have none. It's not that I think this particular issue is the end of the world, it's the principle of retaining and defending your right to privacy. All liberties must be defended vigorously, lest we allow the systematic elimination of them all.

      Just my $.05 (inflation, you know).

      • This is what we asked for. Anybody who bitched and whined about there not being enough security at the airlines is responsible for this.

        It would be hypocritical to say "X-raying bags isn't good enough. We need to know about the people boarding the plane" in one breath, and then cry about this in the next.
        • Re:So...? (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Amarok.Org ( 514102 )
          This is what we asked for.

          In the immortal words of Tonto, "Who you calling *we*, White Man?"
          It would be hypocritical to say "X-raying bags isn't good enough. We need to know about the people boarding the plane" in one breath, and then cry about this in the next.

          While I agree that hypocracy is rampant, I challenge you to find one place where I've advocated the restriction of civil liberty for any reason, or specifically the creation of a false sense of security.

          While uninformed people have asked for this type of regulation, I find your assertion that this is what the collective "we" wanted quite disturbing.

    • Re:So...? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BCoates ( 512464 )
      Look at El Al in Israel

      You're right, there are already dozens of perfectly nice police states around the world. I sure wish the paranoid would just move to one of them and be "safe", instead of trying to turn the US into one...

      Benjamin Coates
      • Re:So...? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by epsalon ( 518482 ) <> on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:48AM (#2936765) Homepage Journal
        As an Israeli citizen, I can tell you we are less a police state than what the US has become.
        Yes we have national IDs and soldiers and security guards everywhere, but we have freedom of speech (at least to some extent). I can buy/rent a zone 1 DVD at any video store. I can publish code to decrypt DVDs without any limitation. I can practice cryptography [] without being targeted. In Israel, the policial and social pressure groups rule and not the corporations. Here we have strict laws limiting campaign contributions.

        Now, which country is more free?
        • Re:So...? (Score:2, Troll)

          by EllisDees ( 268037 )
          but we have freedom of speech

          Right. Try having a public speech in support of forming a Nazi party and see how free you are to speak.

          I can buy/rent a zone 1 DVD at any video store.

          So can we...

          I can publish code to decrypt DVDs without any limitation.

          Ok, you got me there.

          I can practice cryptography [] without being targeted.

          There are absolutely no laws in the US that keep me from using any form of cryptography I want.
          • but we have freedom of speech

            Right. Try having a public speech in support of forming a Nazi party and see how free you are to speak.

            As I said, to some extent. In Israel, these act of racisim support are labeled a danger to society and to the future existence of Israel as a democracy. Just consider Hitler's gain of power in Germany and the protests that led to the murder of Izchak Rabin. I do not see how it is good to be allowed to promote racism. Altough I agree this is a limit on free speech.

            I can buy/rent a zone 1 DVD at any video store.

            So can we...

            What about zone 2 DVDs...? The US corporations are trying to limit things to themselves with these region coding schemes, but many countries (such as Israel) just don't follow suit with these outrageous restrictions.

            I can publish code to decrypt DVDs without any limitation.

            That's what I'm talking about. What kind of twisted order of priorites is it to allow publishing Nazi propoganda and promoting violent acts based on race alone, while not allowing citizens to write and publish technological solutions for home entertainment.

            I can practice cryptography without being tareted.

            There are absolutely no laws in the US that keep me from using any form of cryptography I want.

            Not exactly true. If the cryptography is used for some kind of copyright "protection", it is illegal to try to "circument" it by the DMCA, and thus effectively limiting cryptographic research.
            • Re:So...? (Score:3, Insightful)

              by UberOogie ( 464002 )
              As I said, to some extent. In Israel, these act of racisim support are labeled a danger to society and to the future existence of Israel as a democracy.

              Unless it is racist speech against Palestinians, in which case you get elected head of government.

              Hey, someone had to bring it up.

              Israel may not be a police state for Jewish people, but ask any of your Palestinian citizens and see what they say.

          • Re:So...? (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Kjella ( 173770 )
            Right. Try having a public speech in support of forming a Nazi party and see how free you are to speak.
            All men are created free and equal... *bzzzt* Nope, not under a Nazi regime. Every country has its own ghosts. I wonder how it was like trying to start a communist party in the "land of the free" before the USSR collapsed in on itself.
            I can buy/rent a zone 1 DVD at any video store.

            So can we...
            Talk about deliberately missing the point? He can buy/rent a DVD not zoned for his area. Can you?
            I can publish code to decrypt DVDs without any limitation.

            Ok, you got me there.
            But you completely missed to see the connection to the next.
            I can practice cryptography [] without being targeted.

            There are absolutely no laws in the US that keep me from using any form of cryptography I want.
            Not from using, but from practicing. As in creating, testing and otherwise trying to understand cryptology, or to find out if a specific method is snake oil or not. If you do obtain such knowledge, intentionally or not, and it protects any copyrighted work. you've got a gag order called the DMCA.

        • Re:So...? (Score:2, Insightful)

          by bmj ( 230572 )
          hmmm...i think part of the problem here in the u.s. stems from political ignorance. political and social pressure groups will never rule unless people come to understand politics better. the conservative/liberal debate has produced:

          * conservative == big business can do as it pleases, and the government will support that (with tax dollars).

          * liberal == the general population is too stupid to take care of itself, so the government will come to the rescue.

          in reality, the philosophical underpinnings of conservative and liberal political theory have nothing to do with their present forms. here's a more concrete example:

          the _conservative_ justices on our supreme court have often ruled in favor of giving police more authority to trample people's rights. imho, being _convervative_ (or classically liberal) means the average citizen should have _more_ liberty, especially from the prying eyes of the police. conservativism != facism. facism is a political relative of liberalism (the state being in full control) rather than conservativism.

          let's look at the recent enron debacle. the media is portraying enron as the bastard son of free market capitalism. the company represents everything that is wrong with adam smith's vision of a free market economy. the reality, however, is quite a bit different. enron, though unregulated by the government, wanted to be involved with the government. meetings with cheney. political contributions to both parties to help further their agenda. that doesn't sound very _laissez faire_ to market conservativism means the government stays out of business and businesses take the responsiblity to regulate themselves....

          so...until people understand how our constitutional system works, and how the various political theories apply to it, our country will look like a hopeless mess. and our liberties will always be blunted.
    • Re:So...? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fluxrad ( 125130 )
      Look at El Al in Israel -- they have massive amounts of data on passengers and participate in profiling unlike any other airline

      And we probably would to if a bunch of Canuks started border-jumping/bombing cafe's in Seattle.

      Of course, maybe it's just my own idiosyncratic way, but I'm not a big fan of the government tracking all of my purchases. I pay taxes for them to go blow shit up when it needs blowing up, to make sure my roads are paved, and to spray magnesium chloride in Downtown denver just before it snows. I don't pay them to tell the guy driving the 747 what I had to eat yesterday.
    • Yes, and just this past week El Al screwed up big time by allowing a passenger board with a gun. The guy realized it when he got to New York and turned the weapon over to the Israel embassy.
      I personally would rather have the ability to review all of my data that they collect and selectively block information, or even better delete it.
      Having worked for on of the largest companies in the Data Mining sector for mass mailings / customer identification, I can say that the amount of data collect on you as a person is very very scary; they know just about everything about you and can build a profile quickly on millions of people - since all the records exisit - it is just a matter of sharing between the collectors.

      alt sig:
      Proudly keeping Slasdhot filld with spelling mistakes and pour grammer since 1900!
    • Re:So...? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by PhiloMath ( 253954 )
      Why? Because they HAVE to.

      Exactly. They HAVE to. We are the United States of America and we don't have to; and we can't. You don't turn the most capable country in the history of the whole fucking world, and put them on the task of watching every fucking citizen with an eagle eye till a few specs of information on a computer a thousand miles away happen to come together in such a way worthy of alerting G.I. Joe at the airport.

      We have an immature relationship with technology, and we don't yet have the ethical vocabulary to begin to describe what is wrong with this. On top of that, most of us don't even realize that we're missing anything. That is at the heart of the problem here. If we don't grow up fast, this technology will become our master.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I don't normally bother posting here but I'll make an exception.
      Have you ever dealt with the effects of incorrect information in your credit report? Well, it really is hard to remove errors, and unless and until you do, you may as well be the person portrayed in the credit report. And your cost of living will be ridiculously high as long as that is the case. Your mortgage will be at 11 or 12 percent instead of 6 percent. And your car loan will be at 22 percent instead of 6 percent.
      Now, when they implement this national database, you will have lots of WRONG and DAMAGING information about you in the database, and you will be treated as if you are that other person. And you will not be allowed to travel freely because you will BE THAT OTHER PERSON, for all intents and purposes, as long as the information is not corrected. So, what will be your recourse to correct it? Well, damn near none.
      It isn't just a lack of freedom that is coming - it's the replacement of reality with a virtual reality that is laced through and through with a surrealistic and pernicious spin. When reality is less important than somebody's version of it then we are all in big trouble. And that is exactly where we are headed with shit like this.
    • assurances that the data doesn't fall into the wrong hands or is abused

      The entities proposing this plan are the US government and the US airline industry. Both these organizations have abused their power in the past, what makes you think it will be different on this issue?

      From the article:
      "This technology, based on transaction analysis, behavior analysis, gives us a pretty good idea of what's going on in a person's mind."

      How long will it be before the government knows EXACTLY what you are thinking all the time. And if they find out you are thinking of committing a crime, what is the harm in arresting you? Sure it cuts back on crime, but at the price of freedom. Sounds exactly like Orwell's thought police to me.

  • by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:15AM (#2936631) Journal
    As I understand it, several of the terrorists of 911 fame used their real names and were living here legitimately. They had no reason to use false id since there was no reason for the feds to look for them.

    Spending money on whatever isn't going to bring about better security. It will just bring a better false sense of security.
    • Read the article. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Wakko Warner ( 324 )
      The checks would be against perceived security "flags", and each passenger would be given a "threat assessment" score: for example, someone who purchased four tickets for four passengers on a single flight on the same credit card would have a higher threat rating than you or I would. Yes, before slashdroids go apeshit over this, we can assume a family going to Disneyworld would not be flagged, but four guys with more consonants than vowels in their name sitting in different parts of the plane probably would. And what the hell's wrong with that?

      - A.P.
      • >And what the hell's wrong with that?

        Due process?
        • The airline industry is not an arm of the government, and you are not entitled to due process from a private industry. You need to stop thinking the Constitution applies everywhere.

          - A.P.
      • what's wrong? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CptnHarlock ( 136449 )

        but four guys with more consonants than vowels in their name sitting in different parts of the plane probably would. And what the hell's wrong with that?
        That's called racism, fool. That's what's wrong.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          "Racial profiling" has become one of the shibboleths of our time. Anyone who wants a public career in the United States must place himself on record as being against it. Thus, ex-senator John Ashcroft, on the eve of his confirmation hearings: "It's wrong, inappropriate, shouldn't be done." During the vice-presidential debate last October, moderator Bernard Shaw invited the candidates to imagine themselves black victims of racial profiling. Both made the required ritual protestations of outrage. Lieberman: "I have a few African-American friends who have gone through this horror, and you know, it makes me want to kind of hit the wall, because it is such an assault on their humanity and their citizenship." Cheney: "It's the sense of anger and frustration and rage that would go with knowing that the only reason you were stopped...was because of the color of your skin..." In the strange, rather depressing, pattern these things always follow nowadays, the American public has speedily swung into line behind the Pied Pipers: Gallup reports that 81 percent of the public disapproves of racial profiling.

          All of which represents an extraordinary level of awareness of, and hostility to, and even passion against ("hit the wall...") a practice that, up to about five years ago, practically nobody had heard of. It is, in fact, instructive to begin by looking at the history of this shibboleth.

          To people who follow politics, the term "racial profiling" probably first registered when Al Gore debated Bill Bradley at New York's Apollo Theatre in February 2000. Here is Bradley, speaking of the 1999 shooting of African immigrant Amadou Diallo by New York City police: "I...think it reflects...racial profiling that seeps into the mind of someone so that he sees a wallet in the hand of a white man as a wallet, but a wallet in the hand of a black man as a gun. And we -- we have to change that. I would issue an executive order that would eliminate racial profiling at the federal level."

          Nobody was unkind enough to ask Sen. Bradley how an executive order would change what a policeman sees in a dark lobby in a dangerous neighborhood at night. Nor was anyone so tactless as to ask him about the case of LaTanya Haggerty, shot dead in June 1999 by a Chicago policewoman who mistook her cell phone for a handgun. The policewoman was, like Ms. Haggerty, black.

          Al Gore, in that debate at the Apollo, did successfully, and famously, ambush Bradley by remarking that: "You know, racial profiling practically began in New Jersey, Senator Bradley." In true Clinton-Gore fashion, this is not true, but it is sort of true. "Racial profiling" the thing has been around for as long as police work, and is practiced everywhere. "Racial profiling" the term did indeed have its origins on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early 1990s. The reason for the prominence of this rather unappealing stretch of expressway in the history of the phenomenon is simple: The turnpike is the main conduit for the shipment of illegal drugs and other contraband to the great criminal marts of the Northeast.

          The career of the term "racial profiling" seems to have begun in 1994, but did not really take off until April 1998, when two white New Jersey state troopers pulled over a van for speeding. As they approached the van from behind, it suddenly reversed towards them. The troopers fired eleven shots from their handguns, wounding three of the van's four occupants, who were all black or Hispanic. The troopers, James Kenna and John Hogan, subsequently became poster boys for the "racial profiling" lobbies, facing the same indignities, though so far with less serious consequences, as were endured by the Los Angeles policemen in the Rodney King case: endless investigations, double jeopardy, and so on.

          And a shibboleth was born. News-media databases list only a scattering of instances of the term "racial profiling" from 1994 to 1998. In that latter year, the number hit double digits, and thereafter rose quickly into the hundreds and thousands. Now we all know about it, and we are, of course, all against it.

          Well, not quite all. American courts -- including (see below) the U.S. Supreme Court -- are not against it. Jurisprudence on the matter is pretty clear: So long as race is only one factor in a generalized approach to the questioning of suspects, it may be considered. And of course, pace Candidate Cheney, it always is only one factor. I have been unable to locate any statistics on the point, but I feel sure that elderly black women are stopped by the police much less often than are young white men.

          Even in the political sphere, where truth-telling and independent thinking on matters of race have long been liabilities, there are those who refuse to mouth the required pieties. Alan Keyes, when asked by Larry King if he would be angry with a police officer who pulled him over for being black, replied: "I was raised that everything I did represented my family, my race, and my country. I would be angry with the people giving me a bad reputation."

          GOODBYE TO COMMON SENSE Practically all law-enforcement professionals believe in the need for racial profiling. In an article on the topic for The New York Times Magazine in June 1999, Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Bernard Parks, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Parks, who is black, asked rhetorically of racial profiling: "Should we play the percentages?...It's common sense." Note that date, though. This was pretty much the latest time at which it was possible for a public official to speak truthfully about racial profiling. Law-enforcement professionals were learning the importance of keeping their thoughts to themselves. Four months before the Goldberg piece saw print, New Jersey state-police superintendent Carl Williams, in an interview, said that certain crimes were associated with certain ethnic groups, and that it was naïve to think that race was not an issue in policing -- both statements, of course, perfectly true. Supt. Williams was fired the same day by Gov. Christie Todd Whitman.

          Like other race issues in the U.S., racial profiling is a "tadpole," with an enormous black head and a long but comparatively inconsequential brown, yellow, and red tail. While Hispanic, "Asian-American," and other lesser groups have taken up the "racial profiling" chant with gusto, the crux of the matter is the resentment that black Americans feel toward the attentions of white policemen. By far the largest number of Americans angry about racial profiling are law-abiding black people who feel that they are stopped and questioned because the police regard all black people with undue suspicion. They feel that they are the victims of a negative stereotype.

          They are. Unfortunately, a negative stereotype can be correct, and even useful. I was surprised to find, when researching this article, that within the academic field of social psychology there is a large literature on stereotypes, and that much of it -- an entire school of thought -- holds that stereotypes are essential life tools. On the scientific evidence, the primary function of stereotypes is what researchers call "the reality function." That is, stereotypes are useful tools for dealing with the world. Confronted with a snake or a fawn, our immediate behavior is determined by generalized beliefs -- stereotypes -- about snakes and fawns. Stereotypes are, in fact, merely one aspect of the mind's ability to make generalizations, without which science and mathematics, not to mention, as the snake/fawn example shows, much of everyday life, would be impossible.

          At some level, everybody knows this stuff, even the guardians of the "racial profiling" flame. Jesse Jackson famously, in 1993, confessed that: "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." Here is Sandra Seegars of the Washington, D.C., Taxicab Commission:

          Late at night, if I saw young black men dressed in a slovenly way, I wouldn't pick them up.... And during the day, I'd think twice about it.

          Pressed to define "slovenly," Ms. Seegars elaborated thus: "A young black guy with his hat on backwards, shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants down below his underwear, and unlaced tennis shoes." Now there's a stereotype for you! Ms. Seegars is, of course, black.

          Law-enforcement officials are simply employing the same stereotypes as you, me, Jesse, and Sandra, but taking the opposite course of action. What we seek to avoid, they pursue. They do this for reasons of simple efficiency. A policeman who concentrates a disproportionate amount of his limited time and resources on young black men is going to uncover far more crimes -- and therefore be far more successful in his career -- than one who biases his attention toward, say, middle-aged Asian women. It is, as Chief Parks said, common sense.

          Similarly with the tail of the tadpole -- racial-profiling issues that do not involve black people. China is known to have obtained a top-secret warhead design. Among those with clearance to work on that design are people from various kinds of national and racial background. Which ones should investigators concentrate on? The Swedes? The answer surely is: They should first check out anyone who has family or friends in China, who has made trips to China, or who has met with Chinese officials. This would include me, for example -- my father-in-law is an official of the Chinese Communist Party. Would I then have been "racially profiled"?

          It is not very surprising to learn that the main fruit of the "racial profiling" hysteria has been a decline in the efficiency of police work. In Philadelphia, a federal court order now re quires police to fill out both sides of an 8½-by-11 sheet on every citizen contact. Law-enforcement agencies nationwide are engaged in similar statistics-gathering exercises, under pressure from federal lawmakers like U.S. Rep. John Conyers, who has announced that he will introduce a bill to force police agencies to keep detailed information about traffic stops. ("The struggle goes on," declared Rep. Conyers. The struggle that is going on, it sometimes seems, is a struggle to prevent our police forces from accomplishing any useful work at all.)

          The mountain of statistics that is being brought forth by all this panic does not, on the evidence so far, seem likely to shed much light on what is happening. The numbers have a way of leading off into infinite regresses of uncertainty. The city of San Jose, Calif., for example, discovered that, yes, the percentage of blacks being stopped was higher than their representation in the city's population. Ah, but patrol cars were computer-assigned to high-crime districts, which are mainly inhabited by minorities. So that over-representation might actually be an under-representation! But then, minorities have fewer cars....

          Notwithstanding the extreme difficulty of finding out what is actually happening, we can at least seek some moral and philosophical grounds on which to take a stand either for or against racial profiling. I am going to take it as a given that most readers of this article will be of a conservative inclination, and shall offer only those arguments likely to appeal to persons so inclined. If you seek arguments of other kinds, they are not hard to find -- just pick up your newspaper or turn on your TV.

          Of arguments against racial profiling, probably the ones most persuasive to a conservative are the ones from libertarianism. Many of the stop-and-search cases that brought this matter into the headlines were part of the so-called war on drugs. The police procedures behind them were ratified by court decisions of the 1980s, themselves mostly responding to the rising tide of illegal narcotics. In U.S. vs. Montoya De Hernandez (1985) for example, Chief Justice Rehnquist validated the detention of a suspected "balloon swallowing" drug courier until the material had passed through her system, by noting previous invasions upheld by the Court:

          [F]irst class mail may be opened without a warrant on less than probable cause.... Automotive travellers may be stopped...near the border without individualized suspicion even if the stop is based largely on ethnicity...
          (My italics.) The Chief Justice further noted that these incursions are in response to "the veritable national crisis in law enforcement caused by smuggling of illegal narcotics."

          Many on the political Right feel that the war on drugs is at best misguided, at worst a moral and constitutional disaster. Yet it is naïve to imagine that the "racial profiling" hubbub would go away, or even much diminish, if all state and federal drug laws were repealed tomorrow. Black and Hispanic Americans would still be committing crimes at rates higher than citizens of other races. The differential criminality of various ethnic groups is not only, or even mainly, located in drug crimes. In 1997, for example, blacks, who are 13 percent of the U.S. population, comprised 35 percent of those arrested for embezzlement. (It is not generally appreciated that black Americans commit higher levels not only of "street crime," but also of white-collar crime.)

          Even without the drug war, diligent police officers would still, therefore, be correct to regard black and Hispanic citizens -- other factors duly considered -- as more likely to be breaking the law. The Chinese government would still be trying to recruit spies exclusively from among Chinese-born Americans. (The Chinese Communist Party is, in this respect, the keenest "racial profiler" of all.) The Amadou Diallo case -- the police were looking for a rapist -- would still have happened.

          The best non-libertarian argument against racial profiling is the one from equality before the law. This has been most cogently presented by Prof. Randall Kennedy of Harvard. Kennedy concedes most of the points I have made. Yes, he says:

          Statistics abundantly confirm that African Americans -- and particularly young black men -- commit a dramatically disproportionate share of street crime in the United States. This is a sociological fact, not a figment of the media's (or the police's) racist imagination. In recent years, for example, victims of crime report blacks as the perpetrators in around 25 per cent of the violent crimes suffered, although blacks constitute only about twelve percent of the nation's population.

          And yes, says Prof. Kennedy, outlawing racial profiling will reduce the efficiency of police work. Nonetheless, for constitutional and moral reasons we should outlaw the practice. If this places extra burdens on law enforcement, well, "racial equality, like all good things in life, costs something; it does not come for free."

          There are two problems with this. The first is that Kennedy has minimized the black-white difference in criminality, and therefore that "cost." I don't know where his 25 percent comes from, or what "recent years" means, but I do know that in Department of Justice figures for 1997, victims report 60 percent of robberies as having been committed by black persons. In that same year, a black American was eight times more likely than a non-black to commit homicide -- and "non-black" here includes Hispanics, not broken out separately in these figures. A racial-profiling ban, under which police officers were required to stop and question suspects in precise proportion to their demographic representation (in what? the precinct population? the state population? the national population?), would lead to massive inefficiencies in police work. Which is to say, massive declines in the apprehension of criminals.

          The other problem is with the special status that Prof. Kennedy accords to race. Kennedy: "Racial distinctions are and should be different from other lines of social stratification." Thus, if it can be shown, as it surely can, that state troopers stop young people more than old people, relative to young people's numerical representation on the road being patrolled, that is of no consequence. If they stop black people more than white people, on the same criterion, that is of large consequence. This, in spite of the fact that the categories "age" and "race" are both rather fuzzy (define "young") and are both useful predictors of criminality. In spite of the fact, too, that the principle of equality before the law does not, and up to now has never been thought to, guarantee equal outcomes for any law-enforcement process, only that a citizen who has come under reasonable suspicion will be treated fairly.

          It is on this special status accorded to race that, I believe, we have gone most seriously astray. I am willing, in fact, to say much more than this: In the matter of race, I think the Anglo-Saxon world has taken leave of its senses. The campaign to ban racial profiling is, as I see it, a part of that large, broad-fronted assault on common sense that our over-educated, over-lawyered society has been enduring for some forty years now, and whose roots are in a fanatical egalitarianism, a grim determination not to face up to the realities of group differences, a theological attachment to the doctrine that the sole and sufficient explanation for all such differences is "racism" -- which is to say, the malice and cruelty of white people -- and a nursed and petted guilt towards the behavior of our ancestors.

          At present, Americans are drifting away from the concept of belonging to a single nation. I do not think this drift will be arrested until we can shed the idea that deference to the sensitivities of racial minorities -- however overwrought those sensitivities may be, however over-stimulated by unscrupulous mountebanks, however disconnected from reality -- trumps every other consideration, including even the maintenance of social order. To shed that idea, we must confront our national hysteria about race, which causes large numbers of otherwise sane people to believe that the hearts of their fellow citizens are filled with malice towards them. So long as we continue to pander to that poisonous, preposterous belief, we shall only wander off deeper into a wilderness of division, mistrust, and institutionalized rancor -- that wilderness, the most freshly painted signpost to which bears the legend RACIAL PROFILING.
        • Re:what's wrong? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by reemul ( 1554 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @10:09AM (#2936872)
          It's not necessarily racist. With so many countries being mostly or all of one ethnic and/or religious group (which usually indicates that the country has its own racist and exclusionary practices or else they'd have a more visible minority), its easy for singling out persons from one country to be perceived as, or actually be, racist, but it isn't necessarily so. It often is racist, but it doesn't have to be. Are the many groups around the world who hate Americans racist? If so, what race are they against?

          Besides, most of the anti-profiling arguments just piss me off. Most of the profiles are based on dry, boring math, just probabilities churned out by a computer somewhere. The best way for communities to not be harassed by profiling isn't to complain and demand that profiling not be used, its to demand that the members of their community stop the offensive behavior so that the profile is no longer accurate. If some agency only has the resources to check one of two people, one is an Arab man in his mid-twenties with a one way ticket and the other is an elderly black women on the return leg of a round trip, it's just good sense to check the young man. If they had the time and resources they could and should check both, but with limited options you go with the probabilities. No eldery black women have blown up anything big recently, sorry. Want to avoid that profiling? Make it so that young Arab men haven't blown up anything recently, either.

          Frankly, I'll get upset about the unfair treatment right after I get back from my trip to Mecca. Oh, that's right, I'm not allowed to go there, I'm not a member of the right group.

          • by Flower ( 31351 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @11:02AM (#2937142) Homepage
            Well, now we have a prime example of why this is a bad idea. How about we stop profiling the Irish once all those stupid micks cease blowing up shit. Oh, how about we stop profiling people from Spain? Or haven't you heard about the ETA? Hrmmm, better profile the Japanese too. They use chemical weapons.

            Do you even have a clue that Muslims are just as ethnically diverse as Christians? How long before we have a John Walker, clean-cut and solidly integrated in society blow up another federal building. Oh wait. That's right. The first terrorist to do that wasn't Islamic.

            Finally, you have an extremely small percentage of the population committing these acts so now you want to profile the whole community under the same brush. Well going back to McVeigh, does that mean I should profile caucasian christian males? What? Oaklahoma City isn't big enough now? Not recent enough?

            Your "boring math" is weighted by some human's criteria. It is in no way pure and merely analytical. And as someone who wouldn't flag a single criteria mentioned in the article it still really bugs me that my personal history is coming under such scrutiny. imnsho, this intrusion isn't worth the 15 minute savings I'd get at the airport.

          • Re:what's wrong? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by j-beda ( 85386 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @11:15AM (#2937231) Homepage
            Most of the profiles are based on dry, boring math, just probabilities churned out by a computer somewhere.

            Actually, I think that most of the "profiling" that is done is based on various people's *perceptions* of the probablilities.

            The number of people stopped on drug related suspicion grounds generally disproportionaltely favours blacks, yet in that particular area, the number of people actually convicted disproportionatly favours "whites". The profiling in this case was actually wrong, yet it still occurred. (And of course I have no citation to back this up :-)

            If the system used an independantly audited algorithm that accurately reflected the known factors associated with "bad" behaviour, and randomly selected people for further checks based on representitive data and modeling, then I might not have as much problem with it.

            Of course I would still be concerned about the potential for privacy abuses.

            One must also consider the effectiveness of any system designed to merely catch those intent on destruction. If we make the airlines "safe", would not the determined terrorist just start blowing up busses? NFL games? Little League? If you want to kill 10, 20, or 100 random people, you do not need an airplane to do it. Inciting terrorcan be done in even the most strict of police states - so is it worth the cost to become one?

            • Re:what's wrong? (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Fjord ( 99230 )
              Actually, one of the real problems is when cops think, say, young black males are more likely to be stealing an expensive car. So they pull over young black males in expensive cars on a nuisance charge they normally wouldn't pull someone over for (like changing lanes without signalling). This makes all young black males have to be extra careful while driving, just to get "equality".

              Then to make things worse, every now and then they'll catch a guy who did steal the car, not because young black males in expensive cars are more likely to be theives, but because some actually are theives. Then, the cop feels justified in his/her profile and continues on with it. The cop may even think "I don't pull over nearly as many white young males who have stolen a car" not realizing that it's because of the disproportionate number of young black males pulled over.

              The problem with computerized profiling is that it will continuously flag certain individuals that meet the profile. Every time they go somewhere they will have to deal with it, simply because they choose to be different within their rights. I wouldn't want to be a gay polyamorous man heading to Disneyland with my group once this system is put in.

          • If they had the time and resources they could and should check both, but with limited options you go with the probabilities. No eldery black women have blown up anything big recently, sorry. Want to avoid that profiling? Make it so that young Arab men haven't blown up anything recently, either.

            Let's make up our mind... are we against a powerful, sophisticated group that is a real threat to U.S. security, or are we up against a small, underfunded band of crazy morons who just happened to be lucky enough to kill a few thousand people.

            Your profiling idea will certainly protect us against some portion of stupid whackos, but think about it... If you had a pile of money and a lot of influence and intelligence and wanted to cause damage, and you knew that they were screening for young Arab men but letting the ederly black women on the plane, wouldn't you try to find a way to use ederly black women and not young Arab men?

        • but four guys with more consonants than vowels in their name sitting in different parts of the plane probably would. And what the hell's wrong with that?
          That's called racism, fool. That's what's wrong.
          Actually, what he was trying to say was that anyone with the name "Una Bomba" probably should be flagged as suspect! :-)
      • by ChristTrekker ( 91442 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:47AM (#2936764)

        "Innocent until proven guilty."

        If every citizen has to submit to procedures that basically say, "We suspect you of being a criminal/terrorist threat," what happens to our rights? Until I do something that causes me to be accused of something, I should not have to submit to these invasions of my privacy. National defense should consist of looking outward at threatening groups, not inward at individual citizens. Our borders are like seives, close 'em up. We have no real defense against missiles (MAD is not true defense), build some interceptors. There's no reason for a nation to treat its people like criminals without cause.

      • So it would have caught Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols?

        Anyone who thinks that terrorism is only going to be conducted by people of Arabic descent, or people of Arabic descent are likely to be terrorists is a fool.

    • "Spending money on whatever isn't going to bring about better security. It will just bring a better false sense of security." That's an interesting way to look at it. Using that logic, spending more money to hire more police officers wouldn't lower crime. Note that EL AL has spent a great deal of money on security and, even as they are probably the most targeted airline in the world, has never been successfully attacked. In the case of the 911 terrorists, the type of data mining system proposed would have flagged the patterns of residency of these murderers (several inhabited the same apts. at different times) and the method of purchase (in at least one case, one terrorist purchased tickets for others). Furthermore, the fact that these terrorists were here legitimately, some through student visas (for language schools) doesn not neccessarily mean that the proposed data mining system wouldn't have noticed them. The threat index would be determined by an aggragate of information -- not just one thing. So, combining the terrorists odd residency relationships, student visas, and purchasing patterns, this proposed system would have caught them. Of course, one problem with this approach is that these terrorists like to change their MO, so that the next attack won't be like the last. However, since the proposed system is a neural network, more conditions/rules can be added as time goes on and more data regarding terrorist patterns is collected. Clearly, money, time, and effort do matter in solving problems. Its true in this case just as in almost everything else in life. While there is no silver bullet for terrorism, the proposed system is clearly an improvement over the current hodgepodge of uncoordinated systems. Regards.
      • Note that EL AL has spent a great deal of money on security and, even as they are probably the most targeted airline in the world, has never been successfully attacked.

        Untrue. An El Al airliner was hi-jacked in 1969.

        Using that logic, spending more money to hire more police officers wouldn't lower crime.
        It doesn't. Police generally do not prevent much crime. They usually respond to it. In fact, having more police usually leads to an increase in crime - more crime is observed, and therefore reports, and therefore the numbers go up.

        . In the case of the 911 terrorists, the type of data mining system proposed would have flagged the patterns of residency of these murderers (several inhabited the same apts. at different times) and the method of purchase (in at least one case, one terrorist purchased tickets for others).
        The key is it might have flagged that. Assuming that the program was looking for that, and that it was properly linked to right aggregate data. That is a big assumption. Even if the system they propose comes out right it would flag thousands of people (many many false positives).

        While there is no silver bullet for terrorism, the proposed system is clearly an improvement over the current hodgepodge of uncoordinated systems. Regards.
        I disagree. A system like this which correleates data on over 300 million people will trigger false positives. Even if this system yielded only 1000-1 false positives, the powers-that-be-would have to follow up on 300,000 people. It won't be long before the human operators are just ignorning a system with that many errors.

        And even if the system flagged these 9/11 terrorists for inspections, it STILL wouldn't have prevented the tragedy. Up until they hijacked the planes (in flight) they comitted no offenses which would be grounds to keep them off the flight.
  • Holy Shit!!!! (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Wakko Warner ( 324 )
    The government knows where I live?!?! This is an egregious assault on my rights!!!

    - A.P.
  • by HuskyDog ( 143220 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:22AM (#2936655) Homepage
    If you read the article you will see that quite a lot of the information (e.g. what restaurants you frequent) could only be discovered by credit card records.

    Do what I do and use cash whenever possible.

    Obviously, it wouldn't be sensible to buy your air tickets with cash, but the airline knows who you are anyway so you don't lose anything by paying by card on this occasion.

    • Just used your friendly neighborhood travel agent and pay them in cash. Travel agents are very handy and underrated anyway. They're happy to play what-if scenarios to try to find you a less expensive rate and have access to multiple means of getting you to your destination, so if those last minute air tickets cost too much, they can try Amtrack or Greyhound for you.
      • quite a lot of the information (e.g. what restaurants you frequent) could only be discovered by credit card records. [...] Do what I do and use cash whenever possible.

      You think? Hey, here comes Joe. We have every conceivable record on Joe. We know Joe made $40,000 last year, but we can only account for $30,000 of it. What did Joe spend that other $10,000 on? We don't know. Did he spend it in cash? What on? What has Joe got to hide?

      Let's understand this clearly. Get enough information on anyone, and you can start looking for the holes. This database is about how the government views your actions. If this thing actually gets off the ground, the question won't be "Can they prove I'm guilty", but "Have I proved my innocence?" Remember, at first it will be used to fight the good fight. It's for your own safety. You might be cuffed and locked up for hours, but once you get enough innocent Americans to vouch for your patriotism and loyalty, you'll be released. Whoopee.

      This has the potential to make the McCarthy witch hunts look like a friendly tea party. I don't think I'm exaggerating. Our best hope is that it provides so many false positives that it becomes impractical to use. Specifically, let's hope some Senator spends a lot of cash while vacationing incognito with his "niece", and receives a tazering and an anal probe on his return flight as a reward. That should kill this thing pretty quickly.

  • by hotgrits ( 183266 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:22AM (#2936659) Homepage
    All of these draconian rules will simply drive more and more people away from flying.

    It's already a pain in the ass to board a plane two hours before takeoff, strip down to your underwear for the security screeners, and then wait on the tarmac for three more hours when the airport gets evacuated because the minimum-wage security screener was napping when somebody snuck through.

    All this while the terrorists will do what they've always done: they'll case the airport, a little bit at a time, probing for every weakness. Then, when they're ready, they'll strike. And all we can ever do is play catch-up, closing the barn door after the horses are gone.

    Now, I'm all for making the skies safe, but at some point the burdens outweigh the benefits. People already put up with a hell of a lot to fly somewhere. Add any more hassle and those planes will be flying empty.
    • This is exactly the problem. America is falling into a "reaction based on paranoia" mentality that is hindering the country.

      Consider this: If you fly into Washington Regan (DCA) you must remain seated for thirty minutes prior to landing. This means that when I fly to DCA I am not permitted to stand from the time the door is closed on the flight (I depart from Pittsburgh, the flight is 35 minutes from wheels up to touchdown). What purpose does this serve other than to hassle the passengers? It has already been proven that if someone rushes the cockpit other passengers will stop them (this occured on an American flight to Chicago). Furthermore, does anyone really think that someone intent on taking a plane down is going to remain seated because the pilot or FAA says so?

      To make matters worse the media consistently reports that this airline or that airline is going to go bankrupt because of the fear of flying. This prevents people from buying tickets for future flight because they fear that the airline won't exist (I work for an airline and this is keeping our load factors down to 60% meaning that only 60% of a plane is full at any given time).

      If the government wants to do something they should make it easier to fly, not more difficult and restrictive (I believe that it is possible to do this without comprimising security - please tell me how these randon searches are helpful?). A simple ad campaign telling people to travel isn't going to cut it.

      The private sector isn't any better off. If you are flying to the Winter Olympics you have to first land at one of four "gateway" airports to have you aircraft and pasengers inspected. Then you have to file a flight plan and get a password to fly on to Salt Lake City. For this hassle, what is the point of flying there (and yes there are those that argue that people on private planes can afford the extra cost, but should they have to...)?

      In addition, the government is moving to build a database that will track all of the individuals applying for a pilots license. Is this going to work? Probably not. The government already has a database of suspected terroists and their profiles. That failed miserably on 911 when some 16 people boarded those various planes completely undetected.

      The more that we move to build nataional databases the more that we restrict ourselves. I agree with the previous post that suggested that those that want the complete security and limited freedoms of as city state move to one. As far as flying goes, there is only one way to keep people completely safe: Put them in one airplane completely naked, and have their luggage follow them in another airplane (having said that there is probably some government bill pondering this very idea...).

      • In addition, the government is moving to build a database that will track all of the individuals applying for a pilots license. Is this going to work? Probably not. The government already has a database of suspected terroists and their profiles. That failed miserably on 911 when some 16 people boarded those various planes completely undetected.

        Indeed part of the problem with systems in place before September the 11th is the issue of information gathering outstripping the ability to analyse it. This kind of thing is only likely to make such a probelm worst.
        The US also spends huge amounts of money on ATC and Military radar systems. But apparently all of these systems were incapable of tracking large aircraft by primary return alone. If was truely what happened then every airport in the US is a disater waiting to happen. The last thing you want is any aircarft able to enter crowded airspace unseen...
  • by fluxrad ( 125130 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:23AM (#2936661) Homepage
    This will solve all of our problems! Hurah for the FBI and other organizations. they've seriously cleaned everything up.

    Now that we've weeded out that large portion of the terrorist world that runs around conspicuously advertising the fact that they're terrorists, using their real names and all kinds of paper-trail leaving items like credit cards, real id's and such, all we have to worry about now is that tremendously tiny segment of the criminal population that uses devious means to achieve their goals.

    Thank god the vast majority of criminals and terrorist won't be able to circumvent this measure! Otherwise, it would just be a burden on the American public. And the government would never do something that shortsighted and dumb! Right?
  • It's your own fault. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Krapangor ( 533950 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:23AM (#2936664) Homepage
    In Europe we have information protecting laws which forbid such things. And we have these laws because some dudes sued at the constitutional courts and these court order the goverments to make such laws. You didn't fight for such things and claimed it to be "overregulation". And now your govs are fucking you up. So don't wine about being oppressed. Freedom is something you have to fight for. Everyday.

    • I would suggest that perhaps the fact that the free-est nation in the world can have its civil rights crumble only tells us about the dangers in our future, not the superiority of our present. I would point out, for example, that the european patent office is already issuing "process" patents, that are supposedly not patentable over here, but which the WIPO is forcing on the world. We actually have government organisations doing what they've been told not to, and no one seems to care. The right to silence, still mostly guaranteed in the US (well to US citizens in the US anyway) no longer exists in the UK. Christ, in the UK you cant get together with 5 mates and listen to music that consists of "repetitive beats". WAKE UP MAN.

      At least in the US theres the opportunity of throwing out unconstitutional laws when theres a less hand picked supreme court.

  • It sounds like the system that is being described in the article is programmatically doing the type of data analysis that is performed manually by current intelligence agencies. This just speeds it up to where it would provide useful realitime data correllations.

    The disadvantage is that it could potentially intrude on the public's privacy. Because it is so much easier to dig up unrelated facts, it would encourage law enforcement agencies to use such a system to go on "treasure hunts", just to see what dirt they could dig up.

    What could get nasty though, is if the system could be tweaked by an unscroupulous operator to "plant" facts about someone they wanted to go after. It occasionally happens already, using physical evidence or data. This system could make it easier.

  • As Big Brother starts to collate that data I expect some interesting patterns will emerge. The famous "bought incubus CD -->probable anachristDO NOT issue that speeding ticket, you'll be embarassed on court!--"

    It will be interesting to see what type of metric this data produces. Now if the data is flawed then it's not much use to anyone. I can't wait! I guess I have to start living with 2 Iranian women, purchase lots of ski gear (here in sunny FL) and start reading more ancient druid text.

    The next TRUE geek test. Just how far away from the curve can you get. Just how confusing is it for Big Brother to pigeon hole you?
  • This is why... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EnglishTim ( 9662 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:25AM (#2936676)
    This is why Europe should have never backed down with the US over data protection. It would be illegal to do this in Europe without the express permission of everybody who they take the data from. Europe will not allow companies to export data to countries that do not have any form of data protection legislature (like the US). However, as far as I'm aware they bowed to US pressure to make it a special case. Great. I can't think of any country with companies that are more likely to abuse that information.
    • It would be illegal to do this in Europe without the express permission of everybody who they take the data from

      You need to study EU law more closely, my friend. Every and any right enshrined in the Social Chapter can be suspended or revoked if the security of the EU is threatened. A minimum level of threat is not, however, defined.
  • One "little" problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:31AM (#2936703) Homepage

    What about the thousands of business travellers every year who attend a weeks worth of meetings and

    a) Don't buy their own ticket

    b) Don't book their hotel

    c) Give the address they are staying at as the company they are visiting.

    Or even crazier....


    For pities sake linking all of the reservations systems in the US to try and catch terrorists based in the middle east ? I hate to break it to the muppets out there who thought of this but I can go to a website outside of the US (e.g. This one []) and book tickets.

    The first thing such a system would find is things like

    "Hey look IBMs corporate card has booked 4 people onto this flight, 1 in first class, 1 in business and 2 in coach. We'd better check it out"


    "Some guy in Redmond is booking hundreds of flights a week going all over the world... including to the middle east"

    This wins two awards

    1) Brain dead of the year


    2) Failure to recognise the world outside of the US
    • Some guy in Redmond is booking hundreds of flights a week going all over the world... including to the middle east"

      Um, corporate credit cards are all different for each employee. There isn't ONE for the whole company. They do it that way so they can track each employees expenses.

      • I suppose that depends on the organization. Where I used to work, they had one (1) corporate credit card. Obviously, this wasn't a huge place, only a couple hundred employees, and they always did things with PO's when possible, but if there was the need for a credit card purchase, there was only one.
  • by hotgrits ( 183266 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:34AM (#2936712) Homepage
    Read what happened [] to Microsoft Chief Architect Charles Simonyi when he got profiled at an airport.
  • by The Ape With No Name ( 213531 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:34AM (#2936713) Homepage
    if ($passenger =~ /leftist|non-conformist|muslim|CowboyNeal|ain\'t\s right/gi) {

    warn "Potential Threat\n";


  • by BlackGriffen ( 521856 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @09:45AM (#2936747)
    Who does George Bush think he is?

    A)Julius Caesar
    B)Napolion Bonaparte

    It may not be him, though. Bush strikes me as a cream puff. He may not be emotionally stable (most cocaine/alcohol abusers aren't), but someone who claims to be "a uniter" and "compassionate" wouldn't be making the U.S. in to a pariah, the way it is becoming right now. In all honesty, the personality that fits the bill is Dick Cheyney. Colin Powell may be ex military, but if he wanted power he could be in the driver's seat right now. Hell, if he had announced his candidacy after the Republicans and Democrats did their primaries, he could have won on a write-in.

    The question of the day is this: will whoever is calling the shots at the head of the US be satisfied before he starts WWIII? Afghanistan, fine. Some saber rattling is expected with Iraq, Sept 11 or no. But calling N Korea, Iran, and Iraq an "Axis" of terror is downright foolish. Right there he's comparing them to Hitler and the Nazis. Not very diplomatic, is it?

    Let's just hope no permanent damage is done while the idiot in charge (may not be Bush) attempts to out-idiot himself.

  • Given the delays we already have, for anyplace that's within 8 hours drive time it's no slower to drive. Actually, since I usually dedicate an entire day to any flight, for anyplace that's within 20 hours drive time it's reasonable to drive. So, living here in Virginia, It'd only be more convienent to fly if I was going west of the Mississippi River.

    Unfortunately, most of my long distance trips are visits to family in Utah. That's about 36 hours driving time, not including stops for such luxuries as sleep. Damn.

  • "What have you got, Larry?"

    "She's got something against Microsoft, Intel, the Dee-Emm-See-Aye, stupidly awarded patents."

    "Yeah, sounds like a radical alright, anything else?"

    "She loves something called Linux, processors from a company called Aye-Emm-Dee, and open source something or other."

    "Damn, sounds like one to monitor carefully."

    "Oh, and she reads something called Slash-Dot."


    Klaxons blare, national guard soldiers flood the concourse, passengers witness a woman dragged away in irons with the needles of many stunguns still embedded in her arms and legs.

    Yeah, good thing we have people like Ashcroft looking out for us... excuse me, time to feed the pitbulls.

  • And yet in the face if this story, Michael still feels the need to rock the boat. Guess who's going to get the "Random" body cavity search next time he flies. Yep, the ticket agent will check his ID in the computer and the computer will go *BOOP* Dissident! This of course putting him on the fast track to all the unpleasant "random" security measures.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I like the "7 levels" of association. I'm pretty sure that somewhere no more than 3 levels away, the FBI is watching someone who could limit my travel...

    I'm a Slashdot reader.
    One of the million(s) of other slashdot readers may know a (god forbid) hacker.. Maybe even a hacker who reads a forbidden list such as (gasp) BugTraq! Now I'm an elite underground hacker by association. Who knows what evil plots I may be up to..

    Guess what.. That makes all of you guilty by association too.

    I'm thinking this may slightly change my plans on attending future DefCon conventions.. I may have to drive instead of fly. I'm sure previous con's will definately flag my name for years to come.

    I've been expecting the mysterious 4am knock on my door from the FBI. Now they won't have to bother, they can just wait for me at the mass transit terminal of their choice. I'll just sweep my newly designated Federal identification (my good ol' drivers license) to get into the subway or through an airport checkpoint, and the stormtroopers will be there.

    I'm not sure I like the government's new found power.. We all know perfectly well the aren't just going to use it for this set of terrorists, they'll use it for anyone they deem a criminal element.

    I wonder how long it will take to explain the items in my normal carry-on bag..

    - Laptop (Linux, of course)
    - Hand tools (4-tip screwdriver, cutters, cat5 crimper, phone crimper, tone tester, etc)
    - various wires (network, power, etc)
    - small unidentifyable electronic components.
    - small personal messaging device (Motorola "Communicator")
    - technical documentation and diagrams (oh my)

    Previous to Sept 11th, it was checked over twice before every trip. They'd do the swab test, look at it as if they knew what anything in it was, and then ask "do you have a knife in there?" I say no. They'd ask me various questions regarding my trip to see if I would trip up. It's hard to trip up with "Flying out to fix a client's network, coming back tommorrow."

    Frequently my checked luggage is a large bag with various non-descript boxes inside (servers, components, etc).

    Thank goodness I haven't had to travel since Sept 11th. I've been watched at airports just waiting to pick people up.. You can entertain yourself for hours when you're waiting for a delayed flight. Just keep walking around, and identify the undercover security agents.

  • At Christmas, I took the wife and kids back to Grandma's house.

    As we came to the gate at boarding time, they were conducting the 'random search' on a bearded male who looked to be in his early 20's. A little later, they pulled me aside for the 'random search'. I guess the fact that I was travelling with a wife and two kids doesn't matter, nor does being in my mid-40s. I'm a bearded male.

    I have a friend who has the same name as a porno producer, and he's gotten terrible hassles coming back into the US, over mistaken identity.

    Somehow I doubt adding computers to the profiling scheme will improve things much. Imagine kids cracking the things to get their friends searched on family vacations. Or their enemies.
  • "This is not fantasy stuff," said Joseph Del Balzo, a former acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and a security consultant working on one of the profiling projects. "This technology, based on transaction analysis, behavior analysis, gives us a pretty good idea of what's going on in a person's mind."


    Graceland tour guide: "Elvis has the left building."

  • Call it my military training, paranoia, whatever...but when I fly, you can bet your butt I check out every person I see getting on the plane. It's not like I stare at them defiantly or anything, merely take a look to see who I am flying with. You can always tell when people are up to something, you just need to be alert. The problem is, there are a lot of people that are *very scared* right now. The government is taking advantage of this to push through legislation that in a pre 9-11 world would have been laughed at scornfully.

    People need to realize that rather than do this, maybe we should have more intensive screening for foreigners coming INTO THE COUNTRY. When my unit left the Middle East, we were lucky enough to fly out on a commercial airline. When we were getting prepared to leave Egypt, we were searched VERY thoroughly. EVERY BAG, knick-knack, etc. was checked. Not one person was singled out, everyone went through the same screening process. And you know what, other than the mild irritation of being delayed a bit, not one person minded. It's called safety. So, keep your database to yourself, Government, and let us get on with our normal lives, else: "THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON"
  • "This technology, based on transaction analysis, behavior analysis, gives us a pretty good idea of what's going on in a person's mind."

    Yep, now they can tell what's going on in a person's mind. The real fun part will be watching their faces as I imagine Peewee Herman doing Dr. Ruth Westheimer doggie style. And trust me, you *DON'T* want to know what they are doing with the Calamari.

  • From the article:
    For instance, it would note if an individual lived at the former address of someone considered high-risk.

    Great. So now if my former college roommates do anything bad and get on the high-risk shit-list, then I'm going to be detained at an airport.

    Theoretically, the system could be calibrated to watch for people with links to restaurants or other places thought to be favored by terrorist cells.

    Hypothetical sitation: I'm visiting a friend in town. I stop into a coffee shop a few times while I'm there. Joe Terrorist also frequents that shop. A few weeks later, he tries to blow something up. As a recent patron of that store, am I going to be questioned?? I know this is a more extreme example, but it shows the type of situations that could arise.

    The thing I mainly don't like about systems like these are that they filter out people that "mainstream" society generally thinks are going to be dangerous or problematic, regardless of their actual behavior. It is also becomes a problem of drawing a line for inspections. Even if a person comes up as a "green light" in one of these systems, they will probably be stopped if they have visible tattoos and/or piercings, or if they are flying one-way, or if they frequently travel alone.
    Is there anything that can actually be done about things like this??
  • by gorillasoft ( 463718 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @10:20AM (#2936937)
    The index would send color-coded signals to airlines. Green would indicate no problem. Yellow would indicate the need for more questioning. Red means apprehend. Ogilvie said the company would try to offer the same sort of service to cruise ships and other facilities that want to bolster security.

    This could make security worse. People with little technological training (airline security screeners) often put so much faith in a computer system that if it says something, it must be so. This will result in the screeners seeing a green light and thinking, "This person got green, he can go on through." Unfortunately, they will be looking more at the light and less at the entire circumstances surrounding each passenger because they will trust the all-knowing computer - "just look at how much data it has, it must be right! And gee, if I see the green light I don't have to do any extra work."

    For instance, if somebody has a normal name, doesn't have any irregular travel patterns, doesn't have any warrants, and buys their own ticket with a return trip in advance, they will get a green light in most cases. Now, the problem with that is simply that just because you don't have a recorded history of problems doesn't mean you won't cause problems. So, the screeners will just waive you on through because they don't know that this will be your first and last act of terrorism, you got a green light, and the green light will be all that matters to them. Great.
  • by D_Fresh ( 90926 ) <(moc.rednaxelaguod) (ta) (todhsals)> on Friday February 01, 2002 @10:21AM (#2936943) Journal
    Imagine if you lived in a house that, three owners ago, had a "known terrorist" (read: someone named Muhammed) living in it - you'd be searched constantly. Or if you had a name very similar to aforementioned terrorist (Mohammed Uta?) - you'd be harassed every time you bought a ticket and set foot in the airport. Or if you had to pay cash just once for a ticket - you'd be flagged and frisked at every security checkpoint known to man.

    These are the petty annoyances with systems like this - the false hits far outweigh the real ones, and innocent people get harassed and treated rudely by ignorant, underpaid security guards for things they never know about. It's like someone stealing your identity, ruining your credit rating, and leaving you to pick up the pieces - you don't see the authorities in the credit industry rushing to clean up the records of identity theft victims, do you? No - the victims must spend months if not years reclaiming their credit rating - just as he-who-lives-two-doors-down-from-Muhammed would have to somehow convince Big Brother that the same street name doesn't add up to jack.

    • Not only that, but after so many false hits the screeners stop believing the results. If 99 out of 100 hits is a false positive, you can bet that screeners are going to be just waving people through. So again, we have only the illusion of security, and possibly even less real security than before.

      Systems like this don't work, and can't work.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @10:23AM (#2936951) Homepage

    This article raises a lot more questions than it answers.

    • If most of the records are going to be on US citizens, are we saying that US citizens pose a real threat? The September 11th murderers were all foreign, travelling openly on foreign passports. I assume we'll tie in the CIA database on foreign citizens, but do we assume a foreigner citizen not in the database is higher risk or lower risk than US citizens in the database? Does "no information" mean "assume innocent" or "assume guilt"?
    • What are the complete criteria for being promoted up the danger list? Being a member of a state militia? Being a muslim? Being a member of a citizen's right organization that has criticized these plans?
    • What are the criteria for getting off the danger list? Renounce your evil ways? Join the Republican Party? Report X acts of unpatriotism to the Office of Homeland Security? If you think I'm joking about this last one, go read about the McCarthy Communist witch hunts. This shit actually happened to real people in the USA within living memory, and it can happen again if we allow it to.
    • Who'll be responsible for administrating the database query? Local law enforcement? The new minimum wage "Federal Security Employees"? The FBI? The NSA?
    • Who'll oversee the people who run the database querying and ensure that the results and responses are both accurate and appropriate? Are we going to wait until we've tazered and maced the entourage of some royal Saudi scion before we start to question the system?
    • How do you find out what information is in there about you? Is asking about it unpatriotic and dangerous behaviour? Remember, this is all about how the government views your behaviour, not about facts that have been challenged and proven in a court of law.
    • How do you get your information corrected if it's wrong? Who do you go to if the administrators refuse to correct it?
    • Is the system going to pop up a "It is 67% probable that this person is a terrorist" box and let the minimum wage security guard make the decision about how to handle that? Last week, Joe was flipping burgers; this week he's got a shiny new gun and a shiny new badge, and has to make an instant decision about how to confront a presumed armed and dangerous subject. Is the system going to make it easy for Joe, and say "80% probability, recommend taser and mace, call for armed backup"? Or is it just going to set off a binary "Take 'em down!" alarm, based on crossing some arbitrary threshold of probability?

    OK, let's hear the arguments in favour of it, but whatever they are, I contend that if we put in place a vast, complex, expensive system that is too problematical to use, then all we're doing is spending Federal money to perform a PR exercise for the airline industry.

    And if we do use it, then god help us all. I never, ever want to hear this phrase spoken to me or to anyone else:

    "The computer says you're 67% likely to be guilty, based on your past actions and associations. We're not going to release you until you can prove your loyalty."

  • Quote from the BBC. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @10:27AM (#2936973) Homepage Journal

    No comments:

    In the only interview with the al-Qaeda leader since the 11 September attacks, Bin Laden declares that "the battle has moved to inside America".

    "I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The US Government will lead the American people - and the West in general - into an unbearable hell and a choking life," he says.

    Click here for the whole article []

  • by Uggy ( 99326 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @10:34AM (#2937012) Homepage
    After reading this [] article, I reflect that my three year old daughter was flagged. She does NOT have a beard. I am an Army Reserve Captain and fit the Topgun Iceman profile (big white guy with a short military haircut and demeanor). We all got flagged and searched (carry ons emptied, patted down again etc.)

    Although I understand people's concerns, Europe for all their supposed laws about privacy and information continues to be the most racist place in the world. I can't tell you how many (serveral) times coming through customs in Spain, France, Germany and Switzerland, I sailed through with nary a glance but the Latin American's behind and in front of me were interogated (who are you visiting, why are you here, who are you with, where are you staying).

    In Bilbao, Spain, I was watching their local television news program where they were patting themselves on the back because they didn't have the same race problems as the US. "We have no such problems in Bilbao," The anchorwoman beamed, "We are proud of the six black families that live here in our city and consider them equals."

    YOU COUNTED THEM?! And you know where they live, don't you? That's an indictment of the first degree. You can see that immigrants are not fleeing worlds of oppression and landing in Bilbao Spain that's for sure... doesn't that tell you something?

    I've lived all over the world, and although the US is certainly not the utopia people think it is, we really are the best place to come if you are different or oppressed. Millions of immigrants can't be wrong *G*.
  • I see this is the beginning of the end. Like so many other posts quoting Ben Franklin, it may be truer than many believe. The second people start to believe this is a good idea, that's when it becomes acceptable for the government to do away with whatever they please. At least in their eyes.

    The day of 911, when my teachers began talking about how everything was going to change from here on out, I knew that we were in for trouble. My biggest concern wasn't so much that they were changing laws, and making new ones that take away freedom. No, it was when I was hearing people saying it was okay, that it was for the better...
    Can't anyone see that they are blatantly using 9/11 as a cover for doing WHATEVER they want to do. They have called it a war so that they can use whatever powers necessary to do whatever they have the slightest inclination to do.

    We can't just sit back and say this is okay. Write your congressmen!!! I don't even put much stock in this action, but if enough of us do, we can pray that somehow it changes things.

    Remember this?

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world." -- Declaration of Independence
  • Feds Undertaking Massive Passenger Profiling Plan


    This doesn't sound too hard. I mean, just how much variety are you gonna see looking at the profiles (side view) of massive passengers? ;^)


  • All the privacy freaks can just use their standard technique of falsifying their information (as they do when registering with web sites), to make it say that they are an 84-year-old grandmother from Wyoming. Oh wait, they might encounter a little bit of trouble when checking in or boarding the airplane...
  • by lars_stefan_axelsson ( 236283 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @10:58AM (#2937123) Homepage
    Well, I don't know whether to laugh or cry, reading this, but the people designing these systems obviously slept through most of their statistics class(es) in high school and college.

    The problem with massive screening systems like these the reverend Thomas Bayes (of Bayes's theorem) is not the detection part, i.e. being able to actually detect all the bad guys, but not drowning in false alarms when doing so. And the base-rate fallacy says that there's not a whole lot you can do about it.

    I've developed the argument further in an intrusion detection context see for example The base rate-fallacy and it's implications for the difficulty of intrusion detection [], and it's directly applicable here. The article has an introductory example, that explains that under certain conditions a 99% accurate medical test, won't work at all. The references lists a few other papers by Matthews that are well worth a read also.

    In short, since there are precious few passengers that are actually "terrorists" for any real definition of the world, the system must be several (perhaps 1x10^5 -- 1x10^6) times better at suppressing false alarms, than at detecting actual terrorist, to avoid the situation where "all" alarms (from a practical standpoint) are false alarms, i.e. the fact that you were flagged says nothing about you being a danger or not.

    What's worse of course is that people when faced with such systems start to ignore their output sooner rather than later, and then the system becomes completely useless even from a narrow security perspective.

    So, no, it won't work. It could have worked against the "casual" threat, its very existence could have served as a deterrent, but there are hardly any spur-of-the-moment suicide bombers, so, no, scrap that to. It can't work, because Bayes says so.

  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @12:00PM (#2937515) Homepage
    I'm sure a lot of us have stories about the utter stupidity of so-called airport "security."

    I fly once in a blue moon. As a result, I'm not exactly up-to-speed on the new security paranoia. I go to check in, and answer some silly questions, none of which include "are you carrying anything sharp -- a knife, nail clipper, knitting needles, that sort of thing?"

    My luggage goes through. I waste an hour waiting to for the boarding call. It comes. I enter the security area. Toss my coat and carry-on onto the xray, and I'm about to walk through the metal detector. Then I remember my car keys. I step back, take 'em out, toss 'em into a tray.

    The security guard just about shits herself. "Is that a knife?!" she asks. "Er, yah?" I reply. It's my little keychain knife. It's as sharp as a spoon and has a 1/2" blade. I use it for opening envelopes and potato chip bags.

    Well, my god, you'd think it was the discovery of the century. She literally grabs them from my hand and goes frantic removing my knife from the key ring. Does not ask to look at them, does not ask if she can fuck with my property, and then hands me a bullshit line about either throwing it out or mailing it to myself. I got rude about that: it's not a cheap knife, and there's no post office in the airport.

    It ended up being checked in as luggage, in an envelope and an enormous plastic bag. Must have cost the airline 3x what the knife was worth.

    Anyway, the security bitch took my name. I suppose I'm in some database now as a badass, to be cavity-searched next time I come within a mile of an airport.

    Now, what really pisses me off is the implied insult in the whole thing. They really think I'm stupid enough to believe that the security check has anything to do with making the plane safe!

    I could have carried a 6" lexan dagger through the metal detector and they'd *NEVER* have known about it. I could have walked through with plastic explosive in my shoes. I could have run piano wire through my belt and used it as a garrot. I probably could have walked on with a glass bottle of Coke.

    Or I could have snapped the pull-out handle off my carry-on luggage, and weilded two 16" long sharp-pointed metal sticks.

    Or I could be trained in the martial arts, and way more dangerous than most anyone who is carrying a weapon.

    (Or if I'd left the damn knife in my pocket, I'd probably have cleared the metal detector: it didn't detect my belt buckle, which contains about 10x the metal content of the knife!)


    I am deeply insulted that the airlines are playing this stupid little game of pretending to make us safe by disposing of our nail clippers. That isn't improving our security at all. It's just an insult.

    I'm also PO'd that the check-in desk isn't suggesting to passengers that they think about any sharp objects that might be confiscated, and consder checking them in with the luggage.

    And I'd like to slap the bitch that was so rude about it all. I'm going through a small-town Canadian airport, riding a piddling small jet, and I'm carring a piddling small knife. It wasn't the find of the century: it was an obvious mistake, and she should have politely asked me to step aside and remove the knife myself.

    It also pisses me off that the best I can do is gripe about it all here on Slashdot, because if I go to the airport and talk to her supervisor, I'll probably be filed in some freaking Interpol database as Dr. Evil.

    Ok, your turn: what's your airport security horror story?
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @12:21PM (#2937625) Homepage le.html?ID=911&NAME=1984 or read it below. The worst of it, he's getting more right by the minute. War is Peace? Iran now, and then... Freedom is Slavery? Watch your privacy disappear before your eyes. Ignorance is Strength. Yes, by keeping the people ignorant the government gains strength.

    Bush's Orwellian Address
    Happy New Year: It's 1984
    by Jacob Levich

    Seventeen years later than expected, 1984 has arrived. In his address to Congress Thursday, George Bush effectively declared permanent war -- war without temporal or geographic limits; war without clear goals; war against a vaguely defined and constantly shifting enemy. Today it's Al-Qaida; tomorrow it may be Afghanistan; next year, it could be Iraq or Cuba or Chechnya.

    No one who was forced to read 1984 in high school could fail to hear a faint bell tinkling. In George Orwell's dreary classic, the totalitarian state of Oceania is perpetually at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia. Although the enemy changes periodically, the war is permanent; its true purpose is to control dissent and sustain dictatorship by nurturing popular fear and hatred.

    The permanent war undergirds every aspect of Big Brother's authoritarian program, excusing censorship, propaganda, secret police, and privation. In other words, it's terribly convenient.

    And conveniently terrible. Bush's alarming speech pointed to a shadowy enemy that lurks in more 60 countries, including the US. He announced a policy of using maximum force against any individuals or nations he designates as our enemies, without color of international law, due process, or democratic debate.

    He explicitly warned that much of the war will be conducted in secret. He rejected negotiation as a tool of diplomacy. He announced starkly that any country that doesn't knuckle under to US demands will be regarded as an enemy. He heralded the creation of a powerful new cabinet-level police agency called the "Office of Homeland Security." Orwell couldn't have named it better.

    By turns folksy ("Ya know what?") and chillingly bellicose ("Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists"), Bush stepped comfortably into the role of Big Brother, who needs to be loved as well as feared. Meanwhile, his administration acted swiftly to realize the governing principles of Oceania:

    WAR IS PEACE. A reckless war that will likely bring about a deadly cycle of retaliation is being sold to us as the means to guarantee our safety. Meanwhile, we've been instructed to accept the permanent war as a fact of daily life. As the inevitable slaughter of innocents unfolds overseas, we are to "live our lives and hug our children."

    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. "Freedom itself is under attack," Bush said, and he's right. Americans are about to lose many of their most cherished liberties in a frenzy of paranoid legislation. The government proposes to tap our phones, read our email and seize our credit card records without court order. It seeks authority to detain and deport immigrants without cause or trial. It proposes to use foreign agents to spy on American citizens. To save freedom, the warmongers intend to destroy it.

    IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. America's "new war" against terrorism will be fought with unprecedented secrecy, including heavy press restrictions not seen for years, the Pentagon has advised. Meanwhile, the sorry history of American imperialism -- collaboration with terrorists, bloody proxy wars against civilians, forcible replacement of democratic governments with corrupt dictatorships -- is strictly off-limits to mainstream media. Lest it weaken our resolve, we are not to be allowed to understand the reasons underlying the horrifying crimes of September 11.

    The defining speech of Bush's presidency points toward an Orwellian future of endless war, expedient lies, and ubiquitous social control. But unlike 1984's doomed protagonist, we've still got plenty of space to maneuver and plenty of ways to resist.

    It's time to speak and to act. It falls on us now to take to the streets, bearing a clear message for the warmongers: We don't love Big Brother.

    Jacob Levich ( is an writer, editor, and activist living in Queens, New York.
  • by CaptJay ( 126575 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @12:21PM (#2937629) Homepage
    The screening plans reflect a growing faith among aviation and government leaders that information technology can solve some of the nation's most vexing security problems by rooting out and snaring people who intend to commit terrorist acts.

    Information technology is not some kind of magical spell that will allow telepathic scanning of what goes on in a person's head before the fact. All the data processed by a computer will be configured to respond to specific clues, which people will always manage to go around.

    Computers will never replace the judgement of a human being, and will never be able to determine what the intentions of a person are because of a very simple reason: computers measure actions, and the same action by different individuals does not imply that they have the same motives.

    Despite what many politicians and officials seem to think, computers will not solve all of the world's problems. Their "faith" is just that: a belief in something based on no rational grounds.
  • by cybrthng ( 22291 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @12:29PM (#2937672) Journal
    Unless you buy your tickets at the ticket window or do your own complete reservations, usually your whole itinerary is published, sold and marketed. What is wrong with throwing some security behind it?

    It isn't racial profiling or segmenting out certain people, just tracking patterns of who does what.

    Hell, even in small as Lancaster PA of a population of 300,000 at most, they profile. They profile segments of town to track population, growth, crime and variations in all of the segments. If they see a crime "Wave" moving through they have an idea of where it originates and they can attack it from the source.

    You aren't aware of it, you aren't being racially profile or magically segmented out, people are just using what is known to track, monitor and predict many fascets of normal everyday life which just so happens to include the threat of terrorism.

    Your aren't loosing any liberties when people use information already available. They're not going to do anything unless your being suspicious.

    If you fly 3 different airlines across the us constantly scoping out different airports and have the abilities to rackup miles, rewards, points and member benifits, but don't then that should raise a flag, especially if your paying cash for tickets or full price. As the typical person no matter if a business or personall trip will try and get all the benifets and perks of flying including saving money on advanced purchases, hotel rewards, point sharing rewards and predicting and scheduling their plans.

    The people being evavisive for a reason will have another reason to fear flying. Either way you won't loose your liberties unless your TRYING TO.

    The US has laws and rules to protect your rights, you don't loose them unless you express through actions or words you understanding of the loss of these rights.

    I don't see a single legit american being held, all the people being held without release right now are people overstaying visa's or using education visa's for other purposes. The country they come from can get them extradited, but they don't. Is it wrong for Americans to protect themselves because other countries could care less about there own citizens?

    These aren't people who merely stole a candy bar from 711 who are going to be held, and i'm sorry but a visa infraction is a SERIOUS crime. Your over staying your legal visit in a country and your stated purpose is no longer binding. Your going to pay the price and you were told simply the cost of your actions when you came to this country.

    So don't consider it PROFILING, consider it being rational and using the numbers just like everything else is done. If you county has a high traffic accident rate you pay a higher insurance premium because they came up with a rational way of handling the problems of that area, they profiled the population and didn't hand all the expenses to black people, white people, chinese or japanese, but you know if that WHOLE DAMN AREA IS BLACK, WHITE OR CHINESE THEN IT IS THAT POPULATION THAT HAS TO ACCEPT THAT PROBLEM AND FIX IT. There are plenty of other BLACK, WHITE, CHINESE,INDIAN areas that DON'T have that problem.
  • by pball ( 554093 ) on Friday February 01, 2002 @01:08PM (#2937895)
    Both of the schemes proposed in the WP article are essentially statistical models that predict behavior. Stats are a fine thing (hey, I'm a statistician, I build models all the time), but they depend on having enough examples of the event you're trying to predict in order to isolate the variables that correlate with it.

    Say I have a dependent variable called "did a crazy, evil thing." Now I have dozens of independent variables called "income," "purchase behavior," etc. How many positive cases do I have on the "did a crazy, evil thing" variable? Let's assume that the FBI won't just leak all their investigative data into this system (which would permanently blow those investigations). So that means we have what, like 100 million people with negative scores on the "did a crazy, evil thing" variable, and like 30 ppl with positive scores?

    The statistics suck here, folks, you will NEVER isolate the variation under these conditions. You'll get millions of innocent people whose patterns among the indep variables match the incredibly thin patterns you get among the terrorists.

    This is TOTALLY different from credit analysis schemes where you have like 1/3 or 1/2 of the people in the dataset with occasional or severe credit problems. Modeling really works here b/c a) you have a quantitative measure of the dependent variable (you can smoothly and precisely quantify HOW bad someone's credit is), and b) the dependent variable gives a nice scale with tractable variation, probably one of those infamous bell distributions conveniently around some point (or if you stratify properly you'll find the bells, whatever).

    And don't be fooled by the fancy-sounding "neural network" stuff, that's just another modeling technique which loosens a few assumptions. But it does NOT fundamentally change the need to have enough positive cases to balance the variation in the independent variables. And binary dependent variables? Sheesh. BAD DATA! DOWN BOY!

    And let's talk for a second about the living arrangement correlation analysis. If someone X has lived with someone Y known to be positive on the "did a crazy, evil thing," variable, I sure as hell hope that someone X was questioned very, very thoroughly by the cops. So what good is this additional profiling??

    BTW, I travel internationally with my laptop pretty often. EVERY SINGLE TIME I go through Schipol in Amsterdam they pull me out of the line for ~20 mins of additional questioning. They don't tell me why, but I'm tripping something in their profile. It's not racial, but I think "has been to Bosnia" or something, plus that I have a laptop. They always pester about whether the laptop is mine or my employer's, and being the latter, they are very, very concerned.

    Profiling creates millions of false positives, and it is by no means clear that it prevents false negatives.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.