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What Happens When You Book an Airline Ticket?: The Collection and Processing of Passenger Data Post-9/11 (From Global Surveillance and Policing: Borders, Security, Identity, P 113-138, 2005, Elia Zureik and Mark B. Salter, eds. -- See NCJ-213109)

NCJ Number
Colin J. Bennett
Date Published
26 pages
The author uses his own experience of having his personal information collected and processed in the course of booking an airline ticket for a flight plan within Canada in order to show that the features of a surveillance society discussed in the literature are not based in most people's actual experience.
The author concludes that the features of the surveillance society described in the literature are largely theoretical or anecdotal in the sense of selecting only rare cases to draw general conclusions. The surveillance literature describes emerging surveillance societies as prolific collectors of more and more information on individuals, particularly biological information, that is stored in anonymous databases that are shared across multiple agencies for various purposes. This chapter maintains that this perception of contemporary surveillance societies is mostly untested theory that has yet to be verified through empirical studies. The author conducted his own test of the practices of surveillance in Canada in the course of his booking an airline ticket, which is a routine practice by millions of people, but which is a domain of security concerns due to terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated through the use of airlines. The author concludes that the personal data he was required to provide to various agencies that handled his booking were reasonable requests designed to ensure he was a valid passenger on the days and flights reserved. In addition to this information, his image was captured by various surveillance cameras at staging areas of the airports. Each of the institutions that collected and stored the limited personal information he provided is regulated by Federal privacy protection legislation. From interviews with representatives of organizations that received and stored his information he became convinced that the protection of travelers' personal information was a high priority. 38 notes and 18 references