TSA Expands Its Information-Gathering Reach

New Pre-Check Program Could
Save You from Some Hassles,
Introduce You to Others

On December 4th 2013, the Transportation Security Administration opened its new “Pre-Check” program to travelers. Enrollees will be exempt from having to remove their laptop computers from their bags and won’t have to take off their shoes or belts or submit to some other indignities that are required of ordinary travelers.

But it is no free gift from the TSA. A nonrefundable application fee of $85.00 applies, and worse, perhaps, is the privacy cost that will be exacted upon those who sign up.

In order to get the TSA Pre-Check clearance stamped on your boarding pass, you’ll need to submit fingerprint scans into an FBI database and provide personal information that will be used to conduct a background check.

TSA Now Pre-Screens All Passengers
Before They Even Step Foot in the Airport

Signing up for the TSA’s new “trusted traveler” program would seem to represent a trade-off between convenience and privacy. But in reality, the privacy risks of not signing up for Pre-Check may be even greater in some ways, especially if you’re a frequent traveler.

That’s because the TSA is now conducting in-depth pre-screenings. They formerly applied only to passengers booked on some international flights, but such screenings are now performed on all passengers for all flights. The TSA is, according to the New York Times, “expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information.”

The list of things that are now being examined and compiled into passenger profiles include:

  • Physical characteristics.
  • Passport number (even if you’ve never flown out of the country).
  • Tax identification numbers.
  • Travel history.
  • Employment information.
  • Vehicle registrations.
  • Property ownership records.
  • Any law enforcement or Homeland Security entries.

You can bet that additional information compilation and sharing is also happening with other federal agencies in secret. IRS? NSA? Obamacare registries? The TSA seems to have opened a proverbial Pandora’s Box.

There haven’t been any credible, major new threats to airline security in years. In fact, airline travel remains the safest mode of transportation available. Yet in the name of some unknown, unnamed need for ramped up “security,” the TSA is probing airport passengers (both literally and figuratively) as if they were incoming prisoners. These pre-examinations are being performed on flyers, largely without their knowledge or informed consent, who haven’t even signed up for Pre-Check.

Every time you fly, federal bureaucrats and the airlines that feed them data violate your privacy in ways that you may never notice. But that doesn’t mean you won’t one day notice adverse consequences – ranging from identity theft (electronic data rarely stays in one place), to being put on IRS watch lists, to being singled out under who-knows-what travel restrictions down the road.

If you believe you have been wrongly put on a watch list or have been unjustifiably hassled by TSA personnel, you can file a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP). Whether anything comes from it is another issue, but filing a report with TRIP is a first step in attempting to seek redress.