etBlue found itself on Page 1 of The New York Times last week, and, for once, the news wasn't good.

It broke its internal rules on protecting passenger privacy and handed over 5 million PNRs to a defense contractor, which promptly matched it with a third-party database and ended up with a lot of sensitive information about individual travelers, including Social Security numbers, income levels, length of home ownership, number of kids and even how many vehicles the traveler owned.

JetBlue has apologized and swears it will never do it again, though that hasn't stopped passengers from suing. Interestingly, it bent over backwards to assure customers that the data was not given to the government directly, an assertion that seems a tad disingenuous given that it said it provided it to the contractor at the request of the Department of Defense.

Citizens from both sides of the political spectrum find it troubling that the government and third parties are gathering so much information about our habits and living patterns. But even if you were willing to forego your privacy in the name of national defense, there are the nagging questions: What type of conclusions will the data-gatherers draw? Will this help identify terrorists? Will I fit in the "right" mold?

I obtained a copy of the presentation that the army contractor, Torch Concepts of Huntsville, Ala., made using JetBlue data. Its conclusions, like Frankenstein's monster, are simple-minded and frightening.

One reason JetBlue CEO David Neeleman must be having data-provider's remorse is that his competitors also can review the presentation and obtain a neat demographic profile of his customers, everything from their income bracket to how far they typically live from an airport. No real surprises, mind you -- even Torch Concepts notes that JetBlue passengers are "tourist-like" with travel patterns that are "unremarkable."

Among the "conclusions" is that "Known airline terrorists appear readily distinguishable from the normal JetBlue passenger patterns." The summing up also includes a description of the normal JetBlue passenger pattern as either "young, middle-income home owners with short length-of-residence" or "older, upper-income home owners with longer length-of-residence."

The conclusions are followed by a "risk assessment potential" that states "several data elements have been identified which best distinguish normal JetBlue passengers from past terrorists" and "these 'passenger stability indicators' include Social Security number, length of residence, income and home ownership."

So, someone who doesn't fit the pattern, let's say a middle-aged person whose Social Security number was issued in another state, who's also a renter with a short length of residence -- let's say me, for instance -- won't pass the "passenger stability indicator" test.

Now that's something for me to ponder next time I'm randomly selected for a gate search.

I don't know what lifestyle data points Timothy McVeigh has in common with Osama bin Laden. Maybe it's as simple as the distance they live from an airport or the number of cars they own. I know I don't want their kind going about their business. But, especially after reading this report, I want the government -- and JetBlue -- to keep their noses out of mine.


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