The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the people who rifle through your unmentionables and make you take off your shoes at the airport, were told by Congress that they should not build an airline passenger database for use in profiling.
“Oh, no! Of course we won’t!” the agency is reported to have responded. But what TSA can’t do, apparently contractors can.
According to an AP news item cited at HuffPost, the TSA hired a contractor who, in turn, hired three data brokers to gather detailed dossiers on U.S. citizens. The details of the program, called Secure Flight, are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register later this week.
According to the wire service story, the TSA obtained names from the airlines and then turned them over to a contractor, EagleForce Associates, who then used data brokerage firms to scrape together a more complete profile on each passenger, including:
[F]irst, last and middle names, home address and phone number, birthdate, name suffix, second surname, spouse first name, gender, second address, third address, ZIP code and latitude and longitude of address.
This is not the first time I’ve written about government agencies using private companies to do what the agency is prohibited from doing. Back in March, I was even quoted in a News.com piece about the embattled data brokerage firm ChoicePoint pitching itself to the FBI as being able to do what the agency was prohibited from doing.
I learned long ago in law school that you can’t hire somebody to do what you’re prohibited by law from doing. When you hire an assassin, you’re just as culpable. How these agencies intend to escape responsibility is unclear. But rest assured, the more the world looks into the work of data brokerage firms like ChoicePoint — and the organizations who hire them — the more difficult it will be for anybody to defend their practices.