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How the FBI Uses Online Travel Sites for Global Surveillance

Law enforcement agencies have been known to take some highly controversial measures when it comes to tracking criminal activity around the globe. Although there are strict rules governing the use of data in the United States, they aren't effective enough. There are a number of hoops one could go through, and a number of tactics a law enforcement officer could us, when attempting to circumvent the rules.

Introducing Sabre

In fact, we don't even have to look very far to find the evidence. There are many examples to fall back on, but the incident involving the FBI and the world's largest travel data holder, Sabre, is the latest event to make headlines.

According to official reports, the FBI started tapping into Sabre's extensive databases in December 2019. It was then that they asked for data pertaining to a certain individual – Deepanshu Kher – a highly prolific and international fugitive from India.

But this wasn't a simple request for information. Instead, the FBI asked Sabre to establish a weekly surveillance program of the fugitive in question, complete with real-time data functionality, in order to monitor any geographical movements or financial transactions. The fugitive was eventually captured, and place under house arrest, in January 2020.

This isn't even the first time the FBI has utilized Sabre's databases for law enforcement purposes. Russian hacker Aleksei Burkov was arrested in December 2015 at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, and it's alleged that the FBI used travel data in this case, too. Sabre has also been implicated in at least three other similar events.
Sabre has even been in the news for other reasons. They were critical in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, where their information was used to help map the path of the terrorist hijackers.

But some people seem to think that they FBI's latest efforts are going too far. Moreover, they're primarily concerned about the potential for data loss or abuse. An incident like this could result in a catastrophe for a company that holds so much data.

It also makes them a large target for potential hackers and would-be identity thieves. With such extensive databases containing untold amounts of information, it's a virtual goldmine for some nefarious users and groups.

Some legal experts insist that the FBI's actions are downright illegal. That particular matter is up for the courts to decide.

A Future of Uncertainty

While Sabre boasts the largest database of travel data in the world, it's important to note that they aren't the only database that's in use today. Other, smaller databases are maintained by companies known as Amadeus and Travelport, and they could become targets, too. While their databases don't contain nearly as much information as Sabre's, their security systems and data protection strategies probably aren't as sophisticated.

Although travel is restricted in most parts of the world right now, it's expected to resume in the near future. It's safe to assume that the FBI will also resume their efforts in data collection and data monitoring at this time, too.


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