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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

CAPPS (p. 128)

From chapter "The Panoptic Sort"

Those in power like to tell the rest of us that they are instituting new surveillance regulations and technologies to protect us from (foreign) terrorists. But that’s simply not true. U.S. air passengers were being screened well before 911. In 1998, the first version of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) was alerting authorities to suspect passengers, such as those who bought one-way tickets with cash just before a flight.

After 911, Congress called for a beefed-up system, so the U.S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA) hired the military contractor Lockheed Martin (in an open-ended contract, of course) to build CAPPS-2 using “commercial data warehouses containing names, telephone numbers, former addresses, financial details and other information about virtually every adult American.” Under the new system, all potential airline passengers will undergo background checks after they book flights. The TSA won’t reveal exactly what parts of your life will be investigated, but your name, address, birth date, and phone number will be checked against your credit reports, banking records, and criminal records.

CAPPS-2 will color-code every passenger, green, yellow, or red. The airlines will be given the ratings and decide “whether a passenger should be allowed to board or be subjected to additional questioning.” Reds will be barred from flying and referred to police. CAPPS-2 is being designed to store information about people labeled yellow or red for fifty years.

Plans are already in place to extend these data surveillance regimes to other forms of domestic travel, such as trains, buses, and even drivers’ licenses.

In a classic example of data creep, CAPPS-2 information “could also be shared with other government agencies at the federal, state and local levels, as well as with intelligence agencies such as the CIA and with foreign governments and international agencies—all of which could use those designations for many purposes, including employment decisions and the granting of government benefits.” And in fact, the creep was already included in the testing. In 2002, “JetBlue Airways secretly turned over data on about 1.5 million of its passengers to a company called Torch Concepts, under contract with the Department of Defense. Torch Concepts merged this data with Social Security numbers, home addresses, income levels and automobile records that it purchased from another company, Axciom Corp. All this was to test an automatic profiling system to give each person a terrorist threat ranking.”

In March 2003, TSA and Delta Airlines tested CAPPS-2 at three undisclosed airports. Shortly thereafter, the threat of lawsuits against the government and boycotts against Delta Airlines motivated TSA bureaucrats to try to mollify public concerns without making any significant change by announcing that CAPPS-2 would be “postponed,” but the TSA’s schedule for implementing the system is on track.

Sure enough, by September 2003 (ironically, on the eve of the anniversary of the 911 hijackings) the U.S. government trotted out another announcement about CAPPS-2. Up to 8 percent of passengers who board the twenty to thirty thousand daily flights in the U.S. will be coded yellow and undergo additional screening at the checkpoint. One to two percent will be labeled red and denied boarding (for those of you doing the math, that’s a couple of people from every large flight). In case you suspected only hard-core terrorists would be weeded out, a TSA spokesman declared that “not only should we keep passengers from sitting next to a terrorist, we should keep them from sitting next to wanted ax murderers” (not that I’ve seen many people carrying axes on planes: my experience is that ax murderers generally prefer to travel by Greyhound).

Weeding out the many ax murderers among us won’t be easy. It’ll take more than color-coding at the airport. That’s why CAPPS-2 will have airlines submit to the TSA the following information about everyone who books a flight: name, home address, telephone number, date of birth, and travel itinerary. “If the computer system identifies [sic] a threat, the TSA will notify federal or local law enforcement authorities.” This means you could be arrested before you ever leave home, merely for booking a flight. Now that’s security.

If you’re fretting about privacy, rest assured that the civil liberties folks are on the scene, protesting, rightly enough, about CAPPS-2, “You could be falsely arrested. You could be delayed. You could lose your ability to travel.” You can rest just as assured that these protesters will limit themselves to demanding minor adjustments to the form of the Panopticon, and will fail to protest, question, or perhaps even perceive the Panopticon itself. And you can rest even more assured that the government will continue to refine and ratchet up its abilities to gain information about, and thus power over, those it purports to serve. A government spokesperson said, “Given the dynamic nature of the threat we deal with, it would be impossible to predict when the work would be finished [on air security]. We don’t think it will ever end.”

It won’t be all government bureaucrats doing the surveillance and sorting. It’ll be corporate bureaucrats as well. By the end of 2004, airports will be replacing the federal force with private screeners.

Not everyone is opposed to the new improved CAPPS system; a reporter for Wired was able to find at least one woman who said, “Whatever works, hon. I’m willing to give up a little privacy so that we’re never attacked again. Besides I have nothing to hide.” And in March 2004 the airlines tried to distance themselves from citizen umbrage by adopting a set of procedures that would only collect personal information for aviation security purposes, inform passengers of its collection, keep the information secure, dispose of it after the passenger’s trip, and observe the data collections protocols of other nations.

So long as we do what they tell us, we have nothing to hide, and nothing to fear.

So long as we do what they tell us, we have nothing to hide, and nothing to fear.

So long as we do what they tell us, we have nothing to hide, and nothing to fear.

Just keep telling yourself that.

More from the [CIA Counterintelligence Interrogation] manual:
“It has been plausibly suggested that, whereas pain inflicted on

a person from outside himself may actually focus or intensify his will to resist, his resistance is likelier to be sapped by pain which he seems to inflict upon himself. In the simple torture situation the contest is one between the individual and his tormentor. . . . When the individual is told to stand at attention for long periods, an intervening factor is introduced. The immediate source of pain is not the interrogator but the victim himself. The motivational strength of the individual is likely to exhaust itself in this internal encounter. . . . As long as the subject remains standing, he is attributing to his captor the power to do something worse to him, but there is actually no showdown of the ability of the interrogator to do so.”

So long as we do what they tell us, we have nothing to hide, and nothing to fear.

For the most part our imprisonment is not in a building, but rather in a state of fear. Michel Foucault knew that the “ultimate purpose of the panopticon is not to imprison the body, but to induce in the inmate [the student, the customer, the citizen, the human being] a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” To punish less, perhaps; but certainly to punish better.

Surveillance is more than spying, and it’s more than torturing people until they “regress.” Emile Durkheim and others have redefined surveillance as the “gathering of information about and the supervision of subject populations in organizations,” and they regard surveillance and bureaucracy as a “rational response to the size and complexity of administrative tasks posed by science and technology.” In his book The End of Privacy, Reg Whitaker defines surveillance as the collection and analysis of information for the purpose of control. In either case, the surveillance is done by the main institutions of modern society: the central state and the business corporation.

If you recall, early on we quoted Foucault as saying that the Panopticon is “an important mechanism, for it automizes and disindividualizes power. Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain . . . arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up. . . . There is a machinery. . . . Consequently, it does not matter who exercises power.”