SABRE processes more than US$260 billion worth of travel each year as one of three major global distribution systems in the industry, along with Amadeus and Travelport. Credit: Handout.

Has the Federal Bureau of Investigation crossed an ethical line?

In this age of the so-called war on terror, everything seems to be free for the taking, including torture and assassination.

In December of 2019, the FBI obtained an order against a company, compelling the business to provide the agency with “real-time” tracking of a fugitive named Deepanshu Kher.

Kher was believed to be a computer hacking suspect, and the FBI was having trouble finding him. In January of 2020, barely a month later, the FBI caught Kher.

The company that ended up helping agents track down the fugitive?

SABRE, the world’s largest travel data software and technology company, with literally billions of records of billions of travelers, Rich Thomaselli of Travel Pulse reported.

According to a report from Forbes, the FBI is using a travel company to help carry out surveillance of potential suspects. That means they could accumulate information on you, me or anyone for that matter.

SABRE, a public company based in Texas, was created in 1964 to help American Airlines streamline its then-antiquated system of record-keeping. It worked so well that the Semi-Automated Business Research Environment company spun off into its own business and expanded to hotel bookings and car rentals, the report said.

It processes more than US$260 billion worth of travel each year as one of three major global distribution systems in the industry, along with Amadeus and Travelport.

As a result, they all have a trove of information that is extraordinarily valuable – especially to an entity such as the FBI. In fact, SABRE had a big role in helping officials track down the culprits who used airlines to commit the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the report said.

SABRE, the Justice Department and Kher’s attorneys all declined to comment, but Gloria Guevara, former CEO of Sabre’s Mexican business, now chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), did speak to Forbes.

“They have [built] up humongous databases,” Guevara said.

“They could tell you where [a traveler] came from and the flight that they were on, where they were sitting. SABRE maintains those records,” said Jim Menge, another former SABRE VP from 1994 to 2004.

But asking a company to secretly spy on suspects in criminal cases straddles an ethical line. As Forbes noted, SABRE is like one-stop shopping, the report said.

Where the federal government would have to subpoena financial records, for instance, for every different bank or credit card company where a suspect has an account, it can use SABRE to provide one set of records of every travel-related transaction.

A 1789 law known as the All Writs Act allows the US to force third parties into providing assistance to execute a prior order of the court, according to Forbes, but attorney Marc Zwillinger told the media outlet that this particular incident “struck me as unusual and excessive … I’d be concerned that the government will now use this as a matter of course every time they want to track a fugitive.”

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