Editorial – Blue Skies

When Sir Francis Bacon wrote that ?Knowledge is power,? odds are good he wasn’t thinking of George W. Bush.

The president who would be king, however, seems to have taken Sir Francis’s words to heart.

In the latest move to monitor (and potentially control) the movements of anyone even tangentially connected to the United States, Bush has added another demand to his list: Canadian planes flying through U.S. airspace may be required to provide personal data about everyone aboard–even if the plane never touches down in U.S. territory.

Known as the Secure Flight program, this proposal means that, at least 72 hours before takeoff, a Canadian airplane scheduled to depart from Toronto and land in Mexico would be required to hand over to the U.S. government the names, birthdates, and gender of every passenger, simply because the plane will pass over the States.

The program would also encourage Canadian airlines to provide passengers? itineraries, departure and arrival times, and airport codes for their destinations. One of the most frightening possibilities is that, once a plane is in their airspace, U.S. authorities would be empowered to use that information as cause to intercept a flight and ground it.

The idea isn’t new. It’s been around since 2004, but Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Agency (TSA) shelved it in 2006 after privacy advocates roundly criticized the plan.

As reported by the Globe and Mail, the TSA’s logic behind the Secure Flight program is this: to ?prevent certain known or suspected terrorists from boarding aircraft where they may jeopardize the lives of passengers and others.? Understandable, especially after the events of September 11, 2001.

But here’s where the logic falls apart and the scheme begins to look suspiciously like an information grab: domestic Canadian flights (say, Halifax to Montreal) will be excluded, even though they routinely fly over U.S. territory.

Now, let’s suppose a terrorist wants to commandeer a plane, either to fly it into a building or to land somewhere within the U.S. Security measures are much tighter on international flights. Since this hypothetical terrorist would already be in Canada, it would be much simpler to book a domestic flight. Apparently, the highly paid minds behind the Secure Flight proposal haven’t considered that.

So if the real reason for gathering this information is to prevent someone from taking control of a plane in U.S. airspace and wreaking havoc, why not include domestic Canadian flights? Not only do they routinely fly over the States, they also pass close to major U.S. centres, including New York and Washington.

Privacy concerns aside for the moment (and there are many), this sounds like yet another attempt by Washington to gather information about private citizens that it has no right to.

The Air Transport Association of Canada has until October 22 to voice objections to this plan. Let’s hope they do so–loud and clear.