Washington, DC - The federal government on Tuesday announced plans to order all airlines to turn over the personal records of every air passenger who traveled domestically in June 2004, for use in testing the Transportation Security Administration's latest passenger-profiling scheme, "Secure Flight." The TSA's previous plans for a profiling system called CAPPS II were scuttled over concerns about its cost, effectiveness, and impact on civil liberties. Unfortunately, the new program poses many of the same problems.
Secure Flight will require airlines to forward passenger records to the government, which will then check them for a match with secret terrorist watch lists. The watch lists currently in use have already been shown to be inaccurate: in a recent example, Senator Ted Kennedy was repeatedly misidentified as a suspected terrorist. Moreover, the records now being demanded from the airlines will be used to test another controversial component of CAPPS II, which TSA is considering building into Secure Flight -- using vast commercial databases of personal information to verify passengers' identities.
"TSA needs to offer solid proof that Secure Flight will protect people and their personal information," said Lee Tien, EFF Senior Staff Attorney. "Plus, we still don't have a good explanation of TSA's role in the scandals over JetBlue, Northwest, and other airlines that secretly handed passenger information over to the government. Without openness and accountability, passenger-screening systems are a civil liberties nightmare."
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation