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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

For two years now I have been posting on the importance of consumers gaining control over their names and personal data. Unfortunately for the American public, either business or government gives me more ammunition for this on almost a daily basis. The latest is the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) “Secure Flight” computerized passenger prescreening system, set to go into effect by the fall of 2008. As reported in, before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the list of terrorists banned from traveling totaled 16. By March 2003, after indiscriminate dumping of information by government agencies, it had risen to 75,000. Evolving from a failed CAPPS II project, the Secure Flight list has mysteriously progressed to 325,000 names in 2006. Either the keepers of the “list’ were completely asleep at the switch prior to 9/11—suggesting an intelligence incompetence that has been constant throughout the Bush administration—or the proliferation of terrorists in the U.S. is outpacing the world population explosion. Here’s an example of what to expect. Some antiquated algorithm by the name of Soundex is being used to identify names similar to, say, Osama bin Laden, using certain letters of the last name. Laden gets a code of L350, also given to the name Lydon, which would potentially prevent Sex Pistols’ Johnny (Lydon) Rotten from entering the U.S. Whether or not you are a Sex Pistols fan, just put yourself in this position, wondering if your last name carries the same code as a terrorist in an error-prone technology that continues to be used because the feds don’t have the acuity to come up with anything better.

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