Let’s recap a few recent news splashes regarding airline passenger privacy:

September 2003
JetBlue Airlines : “Uh, we gave the Gov a million passenger records.”
American and Northwest : “Ha! We didn’t!”
U.S. Government (specifically, the TSA) : “We don’t have any data.”

January 2004
Northwest Airlines : “Okay, actually we DID give TSA passenger data.”
American Airlines : “Not us.”
U.S. Government : “Nope, no data here!”

April 2004
American Airlines : “Okay, okay, so we did hand over data.”
U.S. Government : “What data?”

Is it me, or is this some kind of comedy of errors? Three major U.S. airlines– after first publicly denying it– have now admitted they gave the TSA huge databases of personal information about their customers, presumably to be used for testing the oh-so-fun CAPPS II database. And the TSA maintains that they never asked for or received any such data. But even the TSA subcontractors– Fair Isaac, Infoglide, Ascent, and Lockheed Martin– say that yep, they received data and used it to test their algorithms.

(Let’s not even get into the algorithms they must be using to figure out if Joe Blow is a terrorist… but it’s true that having a huge sample of data would be immensely helpful to the software development process.)

Now the Department of Homeland Security, everyone’s favorite big brother, is getting into the act by investigating the TSA and preparing a report (ooh, I can’t wait!) about whether the TSA violated privacy laws. Of course it’s a legal requirement that providing personal information like that in the airlines’ databases must be announced publicly. Because such notification was never given, the TSA may be subject to– uh oh– a $5,000 fine.

It would be a funny situation if it didn’t indicate that not only is the government doing things it shouldn’t (or at least not following the rules), but the airlines are complicit in their involvement and have repeatedly lied about it. I don’t fly any of those three, but I do fly United and Frontier and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before they admit to some fishiness as well.

Anyway, maybe I should just throw my hands up and accept the fact that the Gov is going to keep tabs on me, throw me around a few databases, and ask me to take my shoes off now and again. Sigh.