Editor's Note: Trust, Yes, But Ask For Accountability
Over the past few weeks, I've provided personal information--Social Security numbers, medical history, address, phone numbers, employer information, spouse's name, household income, etc.--to about five different organizations. Whether it's renewing a driver's license, purchasing a mutual fund, enrolling my children in a new school, or whatever, I willingly provide this information for two reasons: It's required for a certain action or service to take place. And because I trust that these organizations will treat my personal information as just that: personal. I'm one of those people who reads the fine print about privacy policies before doing business with someone.
I'm not particularly bothered by the fact that the Transportation Security Administration is seeking passenger information from the airlines for a new screening system that's part of its counterterrorism efforts. As a frequent traveler, I'm all for initiatives that make air travel safer. But I also expect the same type of privacy assurances from the government that I want from businesses. Just as I'd expect the CEO of the bank I use to tell customers their data is protected, I'd like to hear from privacy officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA that they--personally--take full responsibility and accountability for privacy protection of the passenger data that they're seeking from the airlines.
Many issues need to be resolved: Should the data be pushed to TSA, which would require a substantial IT investment? Should it be pulled from TSA, which would raise new privacy issues? Will there be written privacy policies that take into account the airlines' concerns? I hope these things are resolved quickly. There's too much at stake for this situation to turn into a long debate on privacy vs. safety. I expect both.
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