Don’t Trust the Trusted Travelers Programs

Jeffrey Silverman for usareally.com 

Photo: flickr.com/Victor Camilo

It is bad enough that we are checked, and double checked each time we fly and when applying for various State and Federal benefits. If a boy wants to graduate from high school he must register for the draft, and we are basically forced to get a social security number from birth. That number follows us in all aspects of life, from the cradle to the grave.

When will it stop or be curtailed, as least from a privacy perspective? Not soon, it seems. Now there is a program designed to violate our privacy, which masquerades under the guise of the trusted travelerprogram. Its sole purpose is to label us as untrustworthy, so that if we want to get away from all these violations and go elsewhere no other country will have us either.

Untrusted Travelers Program

The new biometric identification programs at US airports are yet another sign that our civil liberties and the Law of the Land are not going to be returned anytime soon. These programs are becoming more popular globally thanks to the US, and the governments which implement them know what they are about, despite their being proffered as programs to make travel easier.

We are told that they help keep us secure, and speed up the entry processes for “preferred travelers,” e.g., trusted travelers, who wish to expedite clearance, or for inbound international travelers. This means that someone is making a judgment about someone might or might not do, not what passport they have. A judgment based on what?

Most Americans don’t see this as a threat. They ask me why I should, unless I am a terrorist or have something to hide. However, we only must consider how privacy is so often breached in America. If top spy agencies and credit card providers can’t keep their data safe and secret, how are we to expect DHS, CIA and the FBI will keep our data safe?

Global Entry Program

Already some airports in the country are testing such programs, and it is likely that all international airports will adopt them at some time in the future. US Customs advertises these as being for Americans who consider themselves on the level of Honest Abe.

However, they too may soon may find out that their expedited travelers’ status has been revoked for any number of misdemeanors considerably less grave than the ones committed by their president, with apparent impunity, every day he is in office.

For instance, if you overdraw a check you can lose your Trusted Traveler status. You may not even have overdrawn it, but if it says in the records of a mendacious company, such a mobile phone supplier, that you did, and you are not aware of this, you are no longer trustworthy.

Don’t ever get a misdemeanor conviction for DUI, as several elected representatives have, or you are then considered a national security risk. If you act foolishly at an airport, in the opinion of an airport worker, by doing things such as jumping the line at check in, you are no longer a trusted traveler. Even not showing up for court to answer a traffic violation charge, or some other petty “misdemeanor” charge, could see you branded as untrustworthy – and if you are convicted of such an offense, don´t think about trying to overturn this.

Based on one FOIA compliant document, some insight into the flip side of the program can be gleaned.

  • You do not meet the program eligibility requirements. GE member has 8/27/2014 misdemeanor conviction for DUI-LIQUOR/DRUGS/VAPORS/COMBO after approval for GE program.
  • You are no longer eligible for program membership as you did not follow proper procedures during U.S CBP processing and went under multiple rope barriers in order to bypass the exit. because of the above security violation your Global Entry membership has been revoked.
  • Upon further review, you do not meet standard requirements base on 2/25/1975 FRAUD-INSUFF FUNDS CHECK / 150 DOLLARS OR OVER; 8/21/1975 FRAUD-INSUFF FUNDS CHECK; 12/22/1977 NONMOVING TRAFFIC VIOL – NVDL PINELLAS CO showing no disposition.
  • Poor conduct of stakeholder at O’Hare International Airport 2/15/17. Conduct lends itself to the belief that the member no longer considered low risk to violate terms and conditions of trusted traveler program.

The application and Global Entry website is sold to us as a “really straightforward” way for good citizens to gain an advantage over the rest of us. You fill out the paperwork, often online, and organize an interview to do your part in helping HLS do its job better. There are of course people who aren’t honest in their applications and get found out later, which leads to their Global Entry privilege being revoked. But why are people being asked these questions in the first place?

As it’s a TRUSTED Traveler program, it is not a membership organization for liars and cheats and crazies. Americans understand that, but also know that it is very easy to brand honest people liars and cheats by misrepresenting them to a public official who has an agenda. When your membership in this program can be revoked for petty things, who know what that can mean in terms of seeking employment in the future, or even a mid-level security clearance?

The good news is that some premium credit cards nowadays cover a Global Entry fee as part of their benefits. But the reasons given to get tossed from this program are crazy. If you feel your membership has been wrongfully revoked there is an option to appeal that decision with the Ombudsman for the Global Entry program. But what if your data is hacked, or used in the wrong way? 

Just look at the nature of the data being stored, and your eyes should open. It is all the stuff which can be used for credit fraud and identity thief: credit cards, bank accounts and Social Security numbers.

In the private sector you can change your data in the event of a breach, and your credit cards and bank accounts. It is even possible in some cases to get a new Social Security number. But what do you do when your biometric data is stolen and manipulated with? Changing your fingerprints or face isn’t possible; these are yours for life. Sure, plastic surgery could be used to alter your body, but is it realistic to expect millions of Americans to go down that route if DHS’ TVS cloud computers are hacked?

You should think twice before getting sucked into the illusion of moving through the airport with ease. The risks of using passenger biometric data, stored in the cloud, to divide people is simply not worth the benefits. Do we want a profound loss of privacy, and unfixable identity theft, merely to speed us through the airport? Does sharing this data with countless DLS partners really make it worth the risk of lifelong credit problems or being listed for “possible” confinement in detention camps?

Don’t Trust the Trusted Travelers Programs
Don’t Trust the Trusted Travelers Programs

But refrain only from airport travel? Probably not, because as we have seen with the TSA, airports may not be the final destination. Biometric ID is already spreading from planes, to trains, to events and to conferences.  In the name of convenience and the promise of security, we are being converted into digital organisms that can be tracked, traced and databased across every meaningful area of human activity.

Have you traveled through a U.S. airport that has requested biometric ID? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comment section below.

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