Some people might scoff when we worry aloud about the potential confusions, embarrassments and delays — not to mention invasions of privacy and abuses of power — that could result from the creation of a government airline passenger screening system. But Sen. Ted Kennedy probably isn’t among them.
We have no doubt the Massachusetts liberal poses a danger to the republic. But he definitely doesn’t fit the profile of a terrorist.
Yet Kennedy recently found himself repeatedly questioned, detained, frisked and hassled while trying to board a flight at Boston’s Logan Airport when his name popped up on a terrorist “watch list.”
The database at fault is reportedly a precursor to the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (or CAPPS II).
The CAPPS II passenger profiling system has been touted by some in government as a way to cull through reams of personal data about millions of air passengers and ferret out terrorists. But anyone familiar with how miserably most federal databases function understandably worries about the implications. Even more troubling is this project’s potential for invasions of privacy, confusion, mistaken identity and false arrest, as the Kennedy episode illustrates.
Kennedy was initially refused a boarding pass at the ticket counter when his name came up on the watch list. A supervisor recognized the senator and gave him the boarding pass. But the episode was repeated until his staff called the Department of Homeland Security and demanded that his name be cleared — a recourse common citizens don’t have.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge personally called Kennedy to apologize for the confusion. But why? Shouldn’t a senator have to endure what the rest of Americans do?
Such apologies are acceptable only if Ridge is prepared to call and apologize to every American ensnared in this Keystone Kops security scheme.
“We have acknowledged in the past the system is an antiquated screening system, and we need a new system that will alleviate situations like this,” a DHS spokesman said.
Heaven help us when the “new system” comes on line.