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Nov 17 2013

Want to Fly? TSA Wants Your Fingerprints and Tax Info

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The NSA isn’t the only organization going through your records and data anymore. Despite a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that basically called the $900 million Transportation Security Administration useless, the organization is upping their ante with new screening techniques and programs.

The TSA currently screens passengers through their Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, or SPOT, which involves approximately 3,000 agents who watch travelers in an attempt to identify “suspicious” individuals for advanced screening. Selected individuals are subject to “chatdowns” as well as advanced patdowns and other supposed terrorist-stopping searches. Current techniques have supposedly led to “2,116 screening referrals to law enforcement last year, 30 boarding denials, and 183 arrests” according to TSA Administrator John S. Pistole. However, the GAO maintains that the TSA’s SPOT program has little to no empirical evidence to support it, and mostly results in racial profiling.

So how will the TSA fix this problem? Why, by introducing a new pre-screening program that reviews individuals’ tax returns, fingerprints, and criminal records of course!

This is all part of the TSA’s new PreCheck program. PreCheck is a special program for “trusted” frequent fliers that feel like paying an $85 fee in return for being allowed to keep shoes, belts, and jackets on, as well as keep their laptops and any compliant liquids in their carry-on. But the luxury does not come without a price – the application process includes providing identifying information, passing a background check, sitting through an interview, and fingerprinting. The New York Times revealed the following list of data that is collected and reviewed on every PreCheck applicant:

▪private employment information
▪vehicle registrations
▪travel history
▪property ownership records
▪physical characteristics
▪tax identification numbers
▪past travel itineraries
▪law enforcement information
▪“intelligence” information
▪passport numbers
▪frequent flier information

The background check cross-references Department of Homeland Security, debt collection agencies, and FBI databases to scope out the individual as well as seek links to unsolved crimes. Privacy notices state that the information received will also be shared with “federal, state, and local authorities; foreign governments; law enforcement and intelligence agencies – and in some cases, private companies for purposes unrelated to security or travel.” The information is held for a period of 75 years.

It should also be noted that even with these extensive measures and your membership fee, “no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening in order to retain a certain element of randomness to prevent terrorists from gaming the system” and that not all airports and airlines participate. Further, your membership can be revoked, unannounced, at any time for something as simple as not properly completing a customs claim. But if your membership is taken away, the data collected stays on file. As an added bonus, if your membership is denied or revoked, you automatically get selected to undergo the highest level of security measures every time you fly.

But just because an individual has not opted-in for PreCheck does not mean they are safe from similar procedures. The TSA’s Secure Flight Program currently collects data on the name, gender, and date of birth of passengers and compares the information to DHS terrorist lists. However, the DHS recently proposed an update to the program that would include the same pre-screening for all passengers and create a color-coded boarding pass system to alert TSA agents on an individual’s level of risk.

The organization is hoping to garner roughly $225 million from the PreCheck program each year. The TSA’s only public comment thus far can be found in a blog post that denies the use of car registration and employment records. The blog states they’re not asking for any new information, despite the fact that they interviewing, fingerprinting, and conducting background checks on PreCheck passengers.

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