Friday, April 16, 2010

Feature Creep

I've been thinking about the work of Virtualpolitik friend Chris Soghoian this week, as I traveled to Northern California for an all-day meeting about writing program policy in the UC system and Cal State. As I prepared to board my United flight, I noticed that Soghoian's complaint that online check-in boarding passes were never checked electronically at the same time that they were authenticated with IDs had finally been remedied. A machine that verifies the electronic information about the ticket holder had finally been installed at the head of the security line. Of course, on my return trip, it was clear that the machine wasn't in service.

While I was in meetings, I also thought about his point about "feature creep" and how authentication systems used for one context are often transported into another without reflection. The classic example is how social security numbers intended to keep track of social security benefits were reused by credit bureaus to track irresponsible creditors. Soghoian became famous for interrogating the use of boarding passes generated by commercial companies for airline security purposes under the purview of the federal government. Now educators in California are facing another form of feature creep with the Early Start program , which takes an instrument intended to be a placement test and turns it into a de facto admissions test.

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