Waving the red, white, blue, yellow and orange

March 06, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

BOY, WHEN it comes to the war on terrorism, we sure do like our colors, don't we?

Apparently, it wasn't enough that we just went through a Code Orange terrorist alert that had been upgraded from Code Yellow but thankfully fell short of Code Red.

Soon, you'll have to be up on your colors at airports, too.

Within months, when you buy a ticket on a commercial airliner, you'll be issued a color code that corresponds to your "threat level" as a passenger.

Green means you're not considered a threat. Which means you'll be subjected to normal security screening and all its wonderful hassles.

Yellow means there might be something fishy about you.

Oh, maybe you're not speaking in a Middle Eastern dialect and maybe there aren't cave diagrams from northern Afghanistan spilling out of your pockets.

But something in the government's new computerized security system flagged you. Which means you'll be subjected to extra screening, possibly even a hands-on search.

Red means you're practically wearing a sign that says: "Ask me about job opportunities with al-Qaida!" And the only traveling you'll be doing is in the back of a police car.

The point is, all these colors get a little confusing after awhile.

Who's sponsoring these anti-terror programs, Crayola?

And if you show up at the airport on a Code Yellow day and you're issued a red color code, does that make it an orange experience overall?

Nevertheless, the new security system, called the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II, could be up and running by the end of the year.

To obtain each passenger's color code, it'll search databases that contain such things as government watchlists, personal financial records and credit reports, looking for suspicious activity.

So if someone has, say, bought a one-way ticket with cash and recently made a credit card purchase at Acme Explosives, that person might be flagged.

Or if someone is fairly new to this country and has $20 million in a bank account and lists his occupation as "busboy," that person, too, might be pulled aside for a little chat.

Predictably, civil liberties groups are all riled up over the implementation of CAPPS II, citing invasion of privacy issues.

They also worry that the system will make all sorts of mistakes that will effectively deny law-abiding citizens from boarding their flights.

But that's not on my list of concerns.

Because when it comes to flying, I don't worry about privacy or some businessman missing his flight because of a computer mix-up. All I worry about is the plane staying up in the air.

Look, I hate flying to begin with.

And anything that lessens the chance of someone on my flight running down the aisle with wires trailing from his overcoat is fine with me.

Hey, I get jumpy when someone spills a Diet Coke on my flight, never mind tries to light a fuse in his shoe.

So if it's a matter of your privacy vs. my plane going BOOM! 20,000 feet over Missouri, guess what?

I'm a little more focused on the plane staying intact.

Call me a worrywart, but I always feel better when my plane touches down without a gaping hole in the fuselage. And without emergency vehicles with flashing lights lining the runway, too.

And if it's a matter of potentially thwarting bad guys vs. inconveniencing a few dozen passengers over a computer mix-up, I'll be voting to thwart the bad guys, too.

And who knows? Maybe in the long run, the CAPPS system might even speed up the security lines at airports, which on certain days can resemble the lines at Disney World, only longer.

Anything has to be speedier than the security procedures in place now, especially the dreaded "random checks" that often seem to make no sense at all.

Maybe, with CAPPS II in place, they'll stop pulling toddlers out of line to check their shoes. And maybe they'll stop rousting all those dangerous 75-year-old grandmothers you see being wanded these days.

Because let's face it, aren't we all sick of picking up the newspaper and seeing headlines like: "Topeka granny charges cockpit, announces jihad before being subdued."

Yeah, these seniors are out of control.

Somebody should really clamp down on these people.

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