Not Saussure

January 1, 2007

Maybe not the sort of place one would want to visit

Filed under: Bloody Yanks, civil liberties, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 12:23 pm

People reading today’s Telegraph might want to reconsider their holiday plans in the light of this:

Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by Brussels and Washington.

By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other messages sent or received on that account.

The extent of the demands were disclosed in “undertakings” given by the US Department of Homeland Security to the European Union and published by the Department for Transport after a Freedom of Information request.

About four million Britons travel to America each year and the released document shows that the US has demanded access to far more data than previously realised.

The report continues,

In October, Brussels agreed to sweep away the “bureaucratic hurdles” preventing airlines handing over this material after European carriers were threatened with exclusion from the US. The newly-released document sets out the rules underpinning that deal.

As a result the Americans are entitled to 34 separate pieces of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data — all of which must be provided by airlines from their computers.

Much of it is routine but some elements will prove more contentious, such as a passenger’s email address, whether they have a previous history of not turning up for flights and any religious dietary requirements [hold the halal chicken].

While insisting that “additional information” would only be sought from lawful channels, the US made clear that it would use PNR data as a trigger for further inquiries.

Anyone seeking such material would normally have to apply for a court order or subpoena, although this would depend on what information was wanted. Doubts were raised last night about the effectiveness of the safeguards.

“There is no guarantee that a bank or internet provider would tell an individual that material about them was being subpoenaed,” an American lawyer said.

“Then there are problems, such as where the case would take place and whether an individual has time to hire a lawyer, even if they wanted to challenge it.”

Initially, such material could be inspected for seven days but a reduced number of US officials could view it for three and a half years. Should any record be inspected during this period, the file could remain open for eight years.

Material compiled by the border authorities can be shared with domestic agencies. It can also be on a “case by case” basis with foreign governments.

Washington promised to “encourage” US airlines to make similar information available to EU governments — rather than compel them to do so.

“It is pretty horrendous, particularly when you couple it with our one-sided extradition arrangements with the US,” said Miss Chakrabarti.

Further and better particulars of the sort of file this PNR data is used to compile were reported by The Register and Bruce Schneier early in December. Still, we don’t mind our trip to Disneyworld being the occasion of the US government trawling through our credit card records and emails, do we? Nor their sharing the material round various domestic US agencies and handing out to unspecified foreign governments ‘on a case by case basis’. For since we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear… and if it catches only one potential terrorist…

What do you mean, you think you’ll take the kids to Euro Disney instead?

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  1. The USA is not a place where I wish to spend my tourist dollars. Which is a pity, as I have always hankered to ride some of those famous roads. I’d like to go, but not at the expense of my privacy.

    I was less serene with my comments…

    Comment by Longrider — January 1, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  2. They can read all our emails and listen to our telephone conversations already thanks to their extensive bases in the UK.

    Comment by cityunslicker — January 1, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

  3. Certainly, City Unslicker, but unless they’re got some reason to take a particular interest in you, they don’t know what your phone number and email address are; now if you book a flight to the USA by email and credit card, all those details are laid out for them. They’ll collate them with other — not necessarily accurate — data sources and see if they think you’ll repay further attention.

    Let’s hope these sources are more accurate than those which led to an American cirizen, born and brought up in the USA and who’d never been to the Middle-East in his life, being turned down for a mortgage last September on the grounds the credit reference agency’s computer (erroneously)  thought he was Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law on the grounds the two gents had the same middle name (Hassan).   Sort of mistake anyone could make, really, I suppose.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 1, 2007 @ 6:21 pm

  4. Is it too paranoid to assume that if you paid with cash and provided a disposable e-mail account you had created expressly for this purpose, they would assume you have something to hide and take a special interest in you?

    Comment by Ian — January 2, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  5. Paying cash for US domestic flights certainly triggers alarms, so I don’t think you’re being paranoid at all.

    If anyone’s interested, a recent AP article gives an extensive list of the items they check for with these security profiles. Coincidentally, Bruce Schneier today has an article about a highly critical report by the Department of Homeland Security’s own Privacy Office about the Secure Flight, the new airline passenger matching program, along with links to his many other articles on the subject.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 2, 2007 @ 10:16 pm

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