Forget Real ID; Big Brother’s going private

While Gov. Mark Sanford and other opponents of Big Gummint are busily fighting that hyper-scary Threat to All We Hold Sacred, the Real ID program, Big Brother’s turning to the private sector to get the dirty deed done.

The Financial Times reports that, under a program (that’s "programme" to you Brits) run by Homeland Security, air travelers are voluntarily turning their most intimate identifying info over to private contractors:

    Until recently the only thing apart from love that money could not
buy was a guaranteed place at the front of an airport security queue.
That is changing, as an additional 500 US air passengers a day agree to
hand over a $100 (£50) annual fee, plus their fingerprints and iris
scans, for the right to become “registered travellers” in private
programmes supervised by the Department of Homeland Security.

the authorities have run an applicant’s background checks to ensure he
or she is not a threat to airline security, the successful RT receives
a credit card-style pass containing biometric information and the
privilege of joining specially designated fast lanes at a growing
number of US airports. The market leader, Verified Identity Pass (VIP),
has received about 100,000 applications, of which 75,000 have been

I suppose the reader reaction to this news will serve as a sort of litmus test: Libertarians will say, "See? Told you the private sector can get the job done better than gummint!"

Others among us would far rather give up such information only to Uncle Sam, who is constrained by laws written by the representives we elect, than to someone with a profit motive, who might choose to do whatever he pleases with it. Different strokes.

First we outsource warfighting. Now this.

9 thoughts on “Forget Real ID; Big Brother’s going private

  1. Wally Altman

    This program is strictly voluntary, right? I don’t see the problem, so long as no one is working to make the regular line slower in order to sell these passes.

  2. Mike Cakora

    If the private company violates the terms of its agreement with its customers, folks will no long purchase its services. But if a DHS, VA, HHS, or other federal agency civil servant loses a laptop or two with personal data of thousands of citizens, where can one get satisfaction.
    Here’s the commitment one company gives:

    We are committed to the transparency of our privacy practices and that’s why we have instituted open, independent checks on our privacy promises, including an independent and public security and privacy audit, the appointment of an independent privacy ombudsman, and an unprecedented Clear Identity Theft Warranty.

    Try to get that from the feds…
    In fact, you news folks would have an easier time prying loose traveler info from the feds than you will from the private companies. Is not your stance to keep available to the public the names, addresses, etc. of holders of concealed weapons permits (CWP)? You could join the Roanoke Times and the several other newspapers that have published the names and addresses of local citizens who have CWPs. But you won’t be able to get the data from the companies involved in the VIP travel, so is that what’s really bothering you?

  3. ruintuit

    Looks like (as of now) there aren’t that many airports on board to accept this. I wonder how many will get this card and find that they have essentially done it for nothing.
    How much information on any of us is really private? Except for the iris scan it doesn’t sound like there is much more information attained for this (and perhaps less) than what your employer has on record for you. As for background checks, I’ve had them done before for both employment and to attain a firearm permit. Maybe I’m missing something worrisome here….

  4. Brad Warthen

    Mike, if what you’re asking is whether I’m bothered that the private company is less accountable for what it does, the answer is yes.
    But you seem to be having it both ways — suggesting the “invisible hand” makes a company accountable, which is entirely unconvincing to me, while suggesting that the fact that the workings of the private company can be more hidden from the public is a good thing.
    Yes, I understand the distinction you’re drawing. I just don’t see how you can say a private actor can be more secretive on the one hand, and more accountable at the very same time.
    How the hell do you punish someone in the marketplace when you can’t tell what he’s doing?

  5. Lee Muller

    When was the last time you saw anyone in the government fired or sent to jail for abusing the public?

  6. Mike Cakora

    The Clear Pass companies have two customers: DHS, to whom it commits that they’ve properly screened the card-holders, and the card-holders, who are promised speedier trips through airport security. If they fail the latter, they’ll lose business; failing the former puts them out of business.
    How the companies do their business is no secret — they’re just running the type of check that would qualify an individual for a “secret” security clearance — but their customer lists will be. They are motivated:

    – to do their processing quickly so they can collect the money from the customer ASAP;
    – do their processing thoroughly so they can stay in business;
    – to keep their customers’ information private so that they’ll renew annually.

    As a practical matter, DHS is a monstrosity; Michael Chertoff should be given a lifetime pension for the work he’s tried to do. It’s TSA has been and will continue to be a mess, impossible to administer given its varied roles. Having several private companies compete to provide Clear Pass is brilliant if only because it provides a path around the bureaucracy.

  7. Lee Muller

    Meanwhile, Lockheed-Martin has a $20,000,000 contract to develop the TWIC badge for 540,000 transportation workers.

  8. Richard L. Wolfe

    Shouldn’t the Feds issue everyone a private jet complete with pilot and hostess. They could tax us smokers to pay for it. After all we are all multi-millionares with tons of cash just lying around. Oh yea, when you come for the money just look in the tall weeds because we are suppose to stay out of sight.

  9. Lee

    I have for some time now though the mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation chapter 13 would be more symbolic than literal.
    Meaning, not the so called microchip.
    However having said that, with great alarm this obsession to give us here in the UK an ID card under some terrorism and crime banner is simply flawed as it proved in Madrid.
    Also the track record lately over here for losing discs with information on with give identity fraudsters a field day if they came across it.
    Certainly food for thought .
    However I’m more concerned right now with the missing dying bees and bats and so on which threatens more shortage of food in the near future and long term.

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