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Monday, August 13, 2007


For months I have been railing over government agencies using junk mail data brokers like ChoicePoint for consumers’ names and personal data to spy on innocent Americans. It all seemed to hit the fan with the NSA surveillance incident, and has gone downhill since. But the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced last week their new “Secure Flight” program that will assume responsibility from U.S. airlines in 2008 to identify potential terrorists, and the likes of ChoicePoint will not be asked to play. Right off the bat I’m suspicious, so I did some more research. The TSA has a release on the program that gives more particulars, but still doesn’t explain how it will accomplish better identification without the technology and private information databases of the junk mail industry. One such procedure is called the merge/purge, something they use to eliminate the duplicates from the merging of hundreds of mailing lists and millions of names. Even this isn’t perfect. After 35 years as a data broker in the business, I can confirm that junk mailers do know how to find the people they are looking for. In the new TSA program, airlines will start sending passenger itineraries to the agency 72 hours before flight time including the traveler’s full name, and will be required to ask for, but not demand, date of birth and gender. If an address is also included in airline data, name, address and DOB is all that’s necessary for ID thieves to do their thing. I am also not sure how the government gets the terrorists’ date of birth to use in the matching process. TSA says by taking the Secure Flight matching responsibilities away from the airlines, that will “ensure a higher level of consistency and will help remedy possible misidentification if a traveler’s name is similar to one found on a watch list.” This sounds like the airlines have been using antiquated technology, and the agency is saying it can do a better job. Although I am the last to suggest they rely on junk mail data mining technology, I frankly do not see how the government can be successful without it.

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