TSA and Other Intrusions on Our Privacy

Yesterday, it was TSA intruding on our privacy with full body scanners and full body pat downs. These searches caused issues for persons with disabilities. TSA officers need more training on how to interact with disabled persons. Tom Sawyer, a retired special education teacher, had a urostomy (artificial bladder) and was embarrassed by TSA officers who ruptured his bag in an over zealous search. Today, air travelers are participating in a boycott of full body x-ray and opting for the full body pat down. The only persons who were affected were their fellow passengers!  The shoe bomber of 2002 and the Christmas day bomber of 2009 taught us not only to fear the dreaded holiday weight gain, but also terrorists who feel the holidays merit their special attention. I’ll take weight gain over being blown up…ha!

The alternative to intrusive scans is racial profiling. Targeting a particular racial group for extra law enforcement attention: Israel has mastered the art. Sometimes air passengers are questioned for 3 hours before a flight. If you are Arab, Israeli or a foreigner flying on El Al, then you are subject to humiliating body searches and in depth interrogation. The Israelis do not find it necessary to question innocent passengers who are 99% of the traveling public. There are no airline terrorist incidents affecting the Israeli airline.

An even greater threat to us is our online privacy. Today, the Wall Street Journal has a front page article about information collection by data mining companies. Two US companies, Kindsight, Inc. and Phorm, Inc, are promoting deep packet inspection as a way of collecting information about you as you surf the net. Their technology reads and analyzes data as it flies across the internet. This is very detailed profiles of internet activities, capable of reading e-mail and sensitive online activity. These services are used by internet advertisers to target consumers with particularized ads tailored and based on developed, detailed internet profiles. How does it work? You are online, sending e-mails, watching online videos, site surfing. The information is collected and sent in data packets from your computer to your internet service provider (ISP). The ISP channels your search to websites. These companies have the capability of reading (inspecting) these data packets traveling between ISPs and the websites you want to visit. Then when you visit the website, you see an ad from a store that you last visited online, or a news story that may be in your interest range. This profiling is possible because these companies know more about your habits, income, assets and debts than you thought possible. They know your age, driving history, your addresses, whether you rent or own, the names of your family members. These details from public websites can be easily obtained by anyone who knows where to look on the internet. The technology is largely driven by the need for more revenue; targeted ads garner more interest and revenue. This is especially true now that ISPs are under greater fire to provide more services at lower prices. When I was researching articles for this blog, I received ads from my favorite stores. Of course, I would be more tempted to click on the ad. That is what these companies want; targeted ads provide larger revenue streams. As I surf the net, I try to use not only Google, but also Bing, Ask and Yahoo for my searches. Use some of the lesser known search engines. Opt out of privacy announcements. I now read every online agreement before I agree. As with everything internet, buyer beware.

See you in my next post.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA

Attorney at Law


Copyright 2010.  All rights reserved.

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