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More convenience for some, less freedom for all

Nevada Appeal editorial board

Americans have given up much since Sept. 11, 2001, in the way of personal convenience and freedom, particularly any time they enter an airport with the intention of flying commercially.

They are about to give up more of that freedom, although perhaps in return for a bit more convenience.

The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, which will check your background every time you want to get on an airplane, has gone through extensive revisions to remove some of its most onerous invasions of privacy.

Improvements announced last week include:

— A way to check the background information the government is keeping on file.

— A six-month test of the system to work out the bugs before it is implemented.

— A reduction in the amount of information the government will check on individual passengers. It will no longer include bank and credit records or medical histories.

Without those changes, the system would have been unacceptable. As it stands, the background check for becoming an airline passenger will be essentially the same thing the airline already does when you pay for a ticket with a credit card.

It is nevertheless a loss of personal freedom. To have the federal government assign a score of “elevated” or “uncertain” risk to passengers is an unprecedented intrusion on our ability to come and go as we please, and to be presumed innocent.

Some people may wonder what is the big deal. But that’s the same as saying it must be OK for police to search your house if you have nothing to hide. Government simply doesn’t have the right.

The tradeoff here is supposed to be fewer hassles at the airport, and a more secure air transit system. And for most people, that will be true.

However, we remain unconvinced the system will actually be able to identify potential terrorists, or that it won’t become a nightmare for a few people who don’t fit the standard government profile. In other words, people like the ones who pioneered this country.