Monday, February 25, 2008
Invasion of the 'Data-Snatchers'
Got your attention, didn’t I? It seems that’s what many newspapers are counting on these days as they plaster their pages with more stories about government ‘data-collection’. Here’s a selection: ‘Big Brother to Watch Air Passengers’, ‘Government Wants Personal Data of Every Traveller’, ‘Europe to Fingerprint All Foreign Travellers’, ’EU slams US on Passenger Data’.

All of this refers to the different and at times overlapping proposals flying between continents designed to document the who, what, where, when and why of the travelling public. All of it is in the name of security but suspicion rules the day. At issue: Exactly what kind of information do governments really need before you board an airplane? European officials are now considering controversial anti-terror measures that would collect up to 19 pieces of information on every air passenger entering or leaving the EU. But under an agreement reached last summer with the US Department of Homeland Security, the EU already supplies the same 19 pieces of information to the US for all passengers flying between Europe and the US.

I’ve been tracking these stories since last summer and if we restrict our conversation to ‘visa-free’ travel, very little has changed. You should expect to hand over your date of birth, reason for travel, the place where you’re staying, length of your stay, and on it goes.

But in the last few months several articles have been misleading, suggesting data as sensitive as sexual preference, health condition and credit card details would be required. So far, that’s just not the case even though I know it makes for a good headline.

Privacy advocates have made some very compelling arguments about governments mining personal data and why they shouldn’t be trusted with too much of it. Does this kind of profiling even make us any safer?

I only wish to point out that when it comes to ‘visa-free’ travel, the bread and butter details of getting away for a quick holiday or business trip, fess up or stay home. This is not an opinion, but a fact. International travel by most countries’ standards is still a privilege to be granted, not a right to be challenged. For now, the fact remains, many people voluntarily give up far more personal information on social-networking sites than they will ever be asked to surrender when they board their next flight.

From CNN's Paula Newton.
News and observations on the threats to international security and the challenges posed by terrorism to societies around the world. From breaking news to background stories, from serious analysis to casual asides, if we think it's interesting we'll post it here.
• February 2008
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