WHAT DID JETBLUE DO?
Timothy Noah thinks the JetBlue scandal is way overblown:
After Torch Concepts got its hands on JetBlue’s names, addresses, phone numbers, and itineraries, it matched some of these up with data it purchased elsewhere. Apparently this included Social Security numbers and financial data. Much concern has been raised that this constituted government snooping into the lives of innocent Americans. (Torch Concepts never actually turned its data over to the TSA, but the TSA put Torch Concepts in touch with JetBlue and clearly hoped the result would be a usable prototype for the TSA’s airline screening in the future.) But the government already has financial data–in most cases, of much better quality–on everybody who pays income tax. It knows your Social Security number, too. It gave you your Social Security number.
The purpose of JetBlue’s collaboration with Torch Concepts was to compile profiling data on airline passengers. Torch Concepts’ strategy was to look for suspicious “transportation transactions,” “investment transactions,” and “biochemical transactions.” Given the reality of 9/11, some kind of profiling is going to occur. Whether these particular benchmarks will prove reliable is anybody’s guess. But almost anything would be an improvement on the current system, which relies heavily on unacknowledged racial profiling of Arabs and the escalating removal of clothing at the metal detectors. (For casual voyeurs, airports are now almost as much fun to visit as public beaches.)
Update (1319): A commenter, reasonably, asked my take on this.
I agree with Noah that the release of the info for security purposes is not unreasonable. I don’t have any problem with the ability of the government to track the travel patterns of those using airlines. The sheer numbers involved ensures that any individual’s habits will only be looked into if bells go off for some reason.