August 27, 2004 | By Kevin Bankston

CAPPS II Returns from Summer Vacation

The LA Times has an article [reg. req.] carrying news that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has officially confirmed what we've long known: the controversial CAPPS II passenger profiling system didn't die. It simply spent its summer vacation at the clinic and spa, getting a not-so-extreme makeover.

The upshot:

* TSA has ditched the non-spinnable name: CAPPS II is now called "Secure Flight." It also ditched the PR disaster of assigning all passengers a color-coded score (the functionality hasn't changed, though -- the program still ranks you according to your perceived threat-level).

* TSA says it won't (for now) dig through commercial databases to confirm your identity before a flight, but it will send your entire "Passenger Name Record" (name, address, itinerary, credit card information, etc.) to the government to check the information against its Senator or Terrorist? [reg. req.] watchlists. TSA also admits that it will "examine the possibility" of eventually using commercial databases by testing them with passenger information from completed flights.

* TSA claims that the new program will not use air travel as a national roadblock to screen for criminals like CAPPS II would have. It also says it will try to match people to watchlists rather than do "predictive" data-mining and analysis to guess who might be a terrorist -- but we imagine TSA will "examine the possibility" of doing that, too, by testing saved data.

TSA has a press release on the new system, stating that "TSA will collect passenger data and begin testing Secure Flight within the next 30-60 days," and that "TSA will likely move forward with implementation of the system nationally after testing is completed and the agency publishes a final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)."

Translation? Within a month, you too could serve as a guinea pig for government surveillance. And provided you don't raise too much of a fuss about that, every American who travels by air will join you.

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