Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Unblinking Stare of the All-Seeing Eye

An Spailpín has been chided, in the past, for his insistence on the pseudenomynous nature of this weblog. Nearly everybody who reads this thing knows who I am anyway, or knows someone who knows someone, so why maintain the pretence? Get it off your chest, they tell me - you'll surely feel so much lighter in the morning.

Whatever the chances of that happening before now, a sobering and deeply depressing article in last week's Guardian put the bullet firmly behind the ear of the reveal all option. There is too much information out there about us already, so to post in my real persona would only add to that, and An Spailpín is pretty fixed in his insistance that They shall get only what They can pry out of me by the most brutal of force or the most subtle of guile, and by nothing less.

For those who don't click, a recap: the writer of the article in The Guardian found a boarding pass stub in a bin near Heathrow Airport in London which contained a passenger's frequent flyer number. Using that number, and the expert assistance of a computer whizz kid (so whizz, in fact, that's he's the guy that invented SSL encryption), the Guardian were able to find out everything short of hatsize and preference for Pele or Best about the poor dumb hoor of a frequent flyer.

When said PBH was contacted about all this, he was, understandably, distraught. Like the rest of us, he realises that we live in an insecure, post 9/11 world and accepts that security measures are unavoidable, but he does not accept that his inside leg measurement should be available to every whey-faced hacker with a broadband modem.

How did it come about? Money, of course. The US Government has been insisting on greater profiling of passengers on commercial airlines since the Clinton administration, long before 9/11. Using a system called Capps, the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System, the G-men are trying to profile passengers so they can hear a dodgy one's bomb ticking and haul him out of there before he goes BOOM! and there's another disaster. Unfortunately, while twisting the arms of the airlines to provide all this info, the US Government does not stump up any readies for the intelligence, meaning that the airlines invest commensurate resources in protecting that information. Not a damn thing, in other words.

It's a scary prospect, and while An Spailpín has little doubt that Richard Boyd Barrett is even now on his knees furiously scribbling out his protest placards against Uncle Satan, An Spailpín himself is not willing to pin all the blame for this one on the G-Men. Not having airplanes explode or crash is good for business as far as BA and the others are concerned, so for them to try pinning a combination of parsimoniousness, fecklessness on a global scale and sheer computer illiteracy on the Yanks is a little disengenuous at best. What are the airlines paying the US to act as the global policeman, for instance? But until such time as the airlines do decide to protect sensitive information after it's been harvested, An Spailpín Fánach's heartfelt counsel is to give them your name, rank and serial number, and not a damn thing more. Selah.

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