Letters

How dare Salon criticize Wes Clark?! Readers respond to Farhad Manjoo's "Acxiom Is Watching You."


Salon Staff
February 14, 2004 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Farhad Manjoo's article, following on his Sept. 4, 2003, article "Brave New Skies," is full of journalistic fluff and misdirection that is far below Salon's usual standards.

Giving "Bill Scannell, a former journalist who is now a full-time CAPPS II protester" a soapbox to say Gen. Wesley Clark doesn't deserve to be president is just one step above using anonymous sources. I went to both of his Web sites and came away with the impression this guy is a crank, not a credible spokesman for privacy issues.

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If you take the article apart looking for specific charges and balanced responses, you are left with nothing more than warmed-over assertions.

Tell Farhad Manjoo and his editor to polish their journalistic skills or look for another place to publish. There are already too many places that offer fluff, spin and hype -- Salon doesn't have to join them.

-- Jeanean Slamen

I hope Michael Moore read that article, and I hope it spurred some thought as to his continued support for Wes Clark.

-- Bruce Cundiff

Your reporter's article on Wesley Clark and Acxiom omit the perspective and events from the man you are targeting. This is a colored article without all the facts.

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The CAPPS II system and the general's involvement have been criticized; however, the timeline [of] his involvement and his reaction to what Acxiom [did] without his involvement while he was on the board is disregarded.

Acxiom came under fire after a subcontractor to JetBlue Airways bought some Acxiom data and used it in ways that JetBlue said violated its privacy policy. Gen. Clark had had nothing to do with that incident.

For the record, he quit the board.

Second, Clark's position is that in some cases collecting data about people is necessary, but should only be done without trampling on people's civil liberties. See his position on the PATRIOT Act. I agree with this, as hopefully most others would. CAPPS II is an attempt to capture passenger information in order to stop terrorists from hijacking. It is a controversial program. And had Wesley Clark been more involved in the development of the program, he would have ensured this would have involved civil liberties groups.

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In the most recent New Hampshire debate, Clark said, "Well, I don't know about CAPPS II because I have not seen the program, and I don't think many of the people who are worried about it have ... I was on the board of the company [Acxiom], and I did take them around and introduce them to various members of the United States government, the Defense Department and so forth, because their technology will improve our security. Had I still been on that board when all this was going through, I would have insisted that the American Civil Liberties Union and others be brought in to pre-approve CAPPS II."

The conclusion your journalist draws is speculative.

-- Jenna Egusa

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I dislike, intensely, the many civil liberties violations that have occurred since 9/11, many with the quiet acquiescence of the general public. All too quickly after the attack, the public and our representatives moved too rapidly in generating short-term feel-good "answers" to the terrorism question. In all cases, legislation, particularly that which affects civil liberties in any way, needs to be completely vetted for consequences.

In this letter I wish to address one particular statement in the article. The question by Karosec: "Why should people be getting in planes with fake I.D.'s?" My answer is why shouldn't people be able to get on (domestic) airplanes with fake I.D.'s, or better, no I.D.'s at all? All that matters is that no individual who gets on an airplane has a weapon of any kind. I.D. is irrelevant, only whether or not they have a weapon matters. As American citizens, we have an absolute right to travel anywhere in our country. We do not need "papers," and no one has the right to ask us to "show our papers."

This is not Nazi Germany. This is not Soviet Russia or communist China. We do not need permission to move around our country. This holds no matter what means of travel we select: car, bus, airplane, train, bicycle, or on foot. When driving, no one stops you before you leave a city or before you enter another state and requires that you identify yourself with valid I.D. in order to have "permission" to travel. As long as you pay for your airline ticket with real money, your actual identity is irrelevant. You, me, all of us, have a right to travel anonymously if we wish. It is not for the government in any guise to track all of us as a matter of course. Just make sure airline passengers are weapons free and we're all good to go.

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-- Praedor Atrebates

First it was a worthless story on how often he blinks. Now we get a thin piece of nothing with subheads like "this man doesn't deserve to be President" on the very day of two critical primaries.

Farhad Manjoo's story wasn't so bad. If you actually read all three pages, and think about it a bit, Wesley looks damn good, and the increasing emphasis on privacy coming from Wesley and Acxiom (not their competitors either, mind you) is a positive sign.

But the blaring headline and timing is clearly designed to create a negative impression of Clark just when voters are going to the polls. As such, it is a hit job the Mafia would be proud of.

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Salon, if word of mouth about your product means anything to you, you have done serious damage to your brand this morning. I will never forgive or forget this obscenity.

-- Ken Erfourth

I find the timing of this article -- the morning of the Tennessee and Virginia primaries -- suspect. I also find the logic suspect. The author makes a dubious connection between advocating for more vigorous screening of pilots and a program to help the government screen passengers -- two vastly different endeavors.

The genesis for CAPPS II is not with Acxiom; rather it is with ClearForest, a New York City company that provides data-mining algorithm software for the Israelis and NASDAQ. The U.S. has been interested in its possible application to terrorism for some time, which is what the Israelis use it for. Then there is Oracle, whose CEO went before Congress and offered to help create a federal identity database.

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Your author states that "it's not clear" whether Clark mentioned addressing ways to balance privacy concerns, yet Jerry Jones, general counsel for Acxiom, stated otherwise to the Washington Post: "Clark repeatedly stressed the need to 'properly balance legitimate privacy interests and the need for security.'"

Finally, all of the information Acxiom possesses is public, such as DMV records (although the law only recently changed on that), housing purchase records and criminal records. None of it was gathered illegally or surreptitiously. In fact, much of the information the government already possesses due to tax returns. Acxiom merely provided a way to collate that information. So the idea that Acxiom invaded anyone's privacy is ridiculous. The CAPPS II program is actually an improvement over the system currently in place, which allows government sources to contact the TSA and add individuals onto one of two "no fly" lists without even specifying the criteria. This has resulted in war protesters and other activists finding themselves targets at airports. Once on the list, it's nearly impossible to be removed. The current system also targets people with similarities to common Arab names, resulting in ordinary citizens whose last names might be Abdul, for example, getting flagged every time they try to go somewhere. CAPPS II will seriously reduce these problems.

If anyone should get the blame here, it's certainly not Wes Clark; he didn't create the program, he didn't implement it. He merely brought two sides together to see what they could do to make air travel safer without compromising the rights of Americans who have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

People are extremely naive if they believe the government can't at any time legally obtain records about what kind of car they buy, where they live and what kind of house they own, and where they work and how much they earn, their Social Security number, and how many children they have.

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-- Christin White


Salon Staff

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