Today on Blogcritics

Profiled

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Almost daily we are asked to give up some small piece of our privacy for the sake of “safety,” in one sense or another. The issue comes up today regarding airline passengers and automobiles.

The airlines:

    Criticism of an electronic airline passenger-screening network took on a new edge yesterday as the Senate Commerce Committee endorsed a plan to require the Transportation Security Administration to disclose how the system will work, including its impact on personal privacy.

    Government officials consider the surveillance system, known as CAPPS II, to be a crucial part of plans to secure the aviation system from terrorist threats. But a growing number of critics believe the system will be overly intrusive and used by other law enforcement agencies.

    “This is really the beginning of a debate of how our country can fight [terrorism] ferociously, without gutting civil liberties,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said after the committee accepted his amendment yesterday. It also would require the TSA to report how it will mitigate errors and enable appeals from passengers who believe they were incorrectly identified as potential threats.

    The CAPPS II system will rely heavily on commercial data warehouses containing names, telephone numbers, former addresses, financial details and other information about nearly every adult American, according to documents and officials.

    Under current plans, it will send a passenger’s identifying information to a commercial information service and have the service construct a risk score, based on computer models provided by the TSA. Those scores will help determine whether a passenger can board a flight. Officials have said they’re most interested in knowing whether someone is “rooted in the community.” [Washington Post]

Ironically, America is known for being the most mobile of modern societies: founded by the mobile and with an entire ethos built around making it easy to “pick up and start over” – even our relatively liberal bankruptcy laws reflect this.

GM cars:

    Unbeknown to most drivers, millions of General Motors Corp. vehicles are equipped with “black boxes” that record speed and other information before crashes.

    The recordings help GM to study ways to improve air bag performance and vehicle safety. Some other automakers use similar, albeit less-advanced, recorders. GM’s device constantly collects information and keeps a recording from five seconds before an air bag deploys.

    Though geared toward improving highway safety, the technology has sparked a debate about privacy and who should have access to the information.

    While critics deem the technology as a way to spy on people, police call the recorders a potentially useful backup tool for investigating serious accidents. The devices are mentioned in GM vehicle owners’ manuals, but in a section about the air bags, which many drivers don’t read.

    ….Information, such as speed, driver seat-belt use, deployment of brakes and engine revolutions, is collected at one-second intervals on GM’s latest recorders, made by Delphi Corp. of Troy, Mich. The recorders are roughly the size of a small pack of index cards and often are called a “sensing and diagnostic module” or “event data recorder.”

    ….GM and other manufacturers don’t routinely download recorded information without owner permission, but there are legal means to get the data for lawsuits or police investigations.

    Of potential concern for drivers is the possibility an insurance company will challenge a driver’s claim after taking possession of a salvaged vehicle and getting readouts from its recorder. [Motor Trend]

Insurance companies may be the greatest threat to our privacy, collecting ever more detailed information on our lives – is our genetic profile next?

About Eric Olsen