12/01/04   
U.S. to require airlines to yield passenger records BY SARA KEHAULANI GOO Washington Post
  

WASHINGTON — Despite stiff resistance from airlines and privacy advocates, the U.S. government plans to push ahead this year with a vast computerized system to probe the backgrounds of all passengers boarding flights in the United States.

The government will compel airlines and airline reservations companies to hand over all passenger records for scrutiny by U.S. officials, after failing to win cooperation in the program's testing phase. The order could be issued as soon as next month. Under the system, all travelers passing through a U.S. airport will be scored with a number and a color that ranks their perceived threat to the aircraft.

Another program will be introduced this year that seeks to speed frequent fliers through security lines in exchange for volunteering personal information to the government.

Privacy and consumer advocates worry that both programs could be discriminatory because they subject airline passengers to different levels of scrutiny. Some organizations say certain travelers, such as non-U.S. citizens, could face additional questioning under the program known as CAPPS 2, or the second version of the Computer Assisted Passenger PreScreening Program. Business travelers who typically pay high prices for their seats will likely get an easier pass through security in the "registered traveler" program.

Privacy advocates say they are most concerned about CAPPS 2, which would replace the airlines' existing computer screening system. The Transportation Security Association believes the current system is based on old assumptions about terrorists, flagging passengers, for instance, who paid with cash or bought one-way tickets. Passengers targeted for additional screening commonly find an "SSS" or " ***" designation on their boarding pass.

TSA said the new computerized system will provide a more thorough approach to screening passengers. It will collect travelers' full name, home address and telephone number, date of birth and travel itinerary. The information will be fed into large databases, such as Lexis-Nexis and Acxiom, that tap public records and commercial computer banks, such as shopping mailing lists, to verify that passengers are who they say they are. Once a passenger is identified, the CAPPS II system will compare that traveler against wanted criminals and suspected terrorists contained in other databases.

The two-step process will result in a numerical and color score for each passenger. A "red" rating means a passenger will be prohibited from boarding. "Yellow" indicates a passenger will receive additional scrutiny at the checkpoint and a "green" rating paves the way for a standard trip through security. Also factored into one's score will be intelligence about certain routes and airports where there might be higher-rated risks to security.

TSA said its best estimation is that 5 percent of the traveling public will be flagged yellow or red, compared with an estimated 15 percent of passengers who are flagged under the current CAPPS I.

The registered traveler program, also known as "trusted traveler," has been a favorite of the airline industry since the terrorist attacks in 2001.

The TSA will begin testing the program at selected airports with $5 million in congressional funding. Officials say the program could enhance security because the pool of those who need to be assessed would be reduced by the background checks each passenger would undergo. The agency declined to say how the program would work except that it would be voluntary and that registered passengers would not skip security screening altogether.

But privacy experts are skeptical. Registered traveler is "going to create two classes of airline travelers," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that opposes both programs. Terrorists will learn to overcome the system, he said.
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