Monday, April 14, 2008

Skeptical

I went to a lunch talk today featuring an alum who's in the Dept of Homeland Security. He spoke about the positives and perils of personal data collection and the Automated Targeting System at airports. Well, he spoke a lot more about the positives than the perils. And when the ATS alerted customs agents to look a little closer at a particular international traveler arriving at Chicago O'Hare, and then that traveler was denied entry to the US and sent back home, and then a few months later that same traveler blew himself up in truck in Iraq (true story) - it's easy to agree that the "false positives" and the privacy concerns are worth it.

But then I think of the people that are wrongly stopped, wrongly questioned, and wrongly denied entry. I can't see it in terms of "marginal costs," I see faces. I see me. Ever since the DCFS investigation, hearing stories of people falsely accused makes me hurt inside. I believe that some "costs of the system" are justified and I think this is probably one of those cases, but it's harder now.

7 comments:

  1. I'm sorry that you had to go through a false accusation. But like you said it does provide insight on this issue. And sometimes these systems (that profile) give us a false sense of security and take away resources from better uses.

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  2. It is hard to determine where to draw the line on protecting privacy vs protecting people. I have pretty much gotten to the point where I refuse to fly. I would have to be doing something wildly spectacular in order to get on a plane. Not because I fear flying or fear for my safety but because I can't stand all the crap that comes with security and delayed flights and lost baggage.

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  3. What a thoughtful post. Seriously.

    After 9/11, I never knew such a fear as I had known before. A fear that something would happen to my India-born boyfriend (now husband) - with all the craziness and targeting of anyone who looked dark and foreign. The killing of the Indian Sikh man, in particular, made my stomach churn with anxiety.

    While my husband and I have both traveled quite extensively (internationally and domestically) since 9/11 with mostly positive experiences, I will still never forget that fear those first few weeks, though.

    Never.

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  4. You'll probably always carry those scars.

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  5. I understand how you feel. My husband is military and that makes flying easier, but we still get stopped and searched and prodded. They made me take my infant's shoes off once. He was 4 months old. They had me hold him out at arms length so they could scan him with the metal detector. In England we had to taste his baby food and have him sip out of all three formula bottles.

    Another time I had injured my knee on vacation and was limping badly as we boarded the plane at the lay over I was in tears from the pain and could barely walk, they stopped me searched me and made me take off my flip flops and wouldn't let anyone hold me up. By the time we were through my husband helped me to a chair and I cried for ten minutes straight while he found or connecting flight and got me a coffee.

    I understand what they are trying to do, but I think perhaps they should think as people, not just as govenment workers. We're not all terrorists. Some of us are just unfortunate vacationers with bad knees. I suppose it's hard to tell anymore but you'd think someone out there would have made it through their training with compassion still in tact.

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  6. I struggle with these issues as well. I always wonder how I would feel if the shoe, so to speak, was on the other foot. There are no easy answers.

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  7. Hard to say...we obviously have a lot of flawed systems that were created with the best of intentions. At least with this particular system, it is based on many many points of data (what like 20 or so?) as opposed to the opinion of one crack-pot doctor...seems like it might be less prone to human error.
    I also don't have anything to hide, so I don't really care if they gather data on me or my family. When asked to take Cooper's shoes off in the security line a couple weeks ago (he's the same age as Landon for those who don't know us), I shrugged and made a joke that the TSA agent was underestimating the fattness of Coop's feet, which made other travelers laugh.
    I made some last minute flight changes at the ticket counter while flying w/Gavin when he was about 18 months, which triggered flags in the systems, so we "qualified" for extra checks through security. After going through the metal detector, we got wanded and they hand-searched my purse and diaper bag. Poor agent opened the diaper bag, and as most of you moms know, those thing are packed to the gills and in a very particular way. Well, that bag nearly exploded blankets and sippy cups and toys all over him. He looked scared, then passed it back to me..."have a good trip!" I just walked away laughing.
    When they initially had the system where the boarding passes were randomly marked with a code that indicated extra security checks, people were angry then, too. There were two young men (out of a group of about 12 or so traveling together...maybe a team of some sort?) and a whole bunch of other folks, including a doddering old lady with a cane that had to go through the extra checks. Out of all these people from different backgrounds, ages, and races, including the elderly lady, only these two young men were throwing a stink about it...kept hollaring about racial profiling (they were African-American...kind of funny since this was a month after 911). Finally an African American TSA agent told them to shut up and to look at the rest of the people in line around them and look at the code that was pre-printed on the back of their boarding pass...that it was printed there when the roll of boarding passes paper was created. So, you can't make anyone happy...but at least it seems they're trying to do it the right way.

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