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CAPPS II Critic Launches New Campaign

Bill Scannell, a former journalist turned political activist who helped put a serious dent in the government's first efforts at implementing the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), is launching a new website aimed at further derailing the program.

In late July, the Department of Homeland Security issued new guidelines for the program aimed at defusing the firestorm of criticism that followed the March disclosures that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) planned to scan government and commercial databases for potential terrorist threats when a passenger makes flight reservations.

Under the original proposal, airline passengers would have been required to provide their full name plus address, phone number and date of birth when making reservations. Once that information was entered, the airline computer reservation system would automatically link to the TSA for a computer background check on the traveler that could include a credit, banking history and criminal background check.

The program was sharply criticized by privacy advocates and lawmakers. Scannell organized a boycott of Delta Airlines, which was originally scheduled to test the program. The Senate Appropriations Committee in July denied any funding for CAPPS II until the General Accounting Office (GAO) produces a study on the privacy impact of the program.

Under the new guidelines, passengers will still be required to provide the airlines with their name, address, telephone number and date of birth, as well as some information about the passenger's itinerary. According to the DHS, there will be no credit check and, "No additional information beyond this data is required to be collected from passengers for the operation of CAPPS II."

That's still not good enough for Scannell.

"They (DHS) have done a good job of the snowing the public with the warmer and fuzzier CAPPS II," Scannell told Internetnews.com. "What they did was move it a step deeper into the reservation system and created a huge boom for computerized reservation systems (CRS)."

All airlines book reservations through one of four commercial reservation systems. When a passenger makes a reservation, a CRS creates a "travel dossier," or passenger name record (PRN). Nothing in the new regulations prohibits the reservation systems from retaining the data.

Galileo, one of the four CRSs in the country along with Sabre, WorldSpan and Amadeus, will be testing the new system for the government and Scannell has launched Don't Spy On Us to organize a boycott of the Cendant subsidiary.

"Until now, it's been difficult to separate John Smith's information from another John Smith. The addition of dates of birth, telephone numbers, and full names makes it easy to tell one Smith from another," Scannell said, who also maintains the CRSs will be able to sell the information and otherwise use it for marketing purposes.

In addition to giving the giant reservation systems additional marketing information on travelers, Scannell remains steadfastly opposed to the overall CAPPS II program.

"The idea of citizens having to undergo a background investigation simply to travel in his or her own country is invasive and un-American. The CAPPS II system goes far beyond what any thinking citizen of this country should consider reasonable," Scannell said in a statement. "That citizens will be required to provide detailed personal information to private companies that can be used for tracking and marketing purposes is repugnant."

Scannell says he plans to "beat on Galileo" until they withdraw from the program.

"If enough people refuse to conduct business with Galileo or any of its sister companies, then it is likely that other computerized reservation systems will refuse to implement this sadly misguided and anti-democratic program," Scannell said. "The boycott will remain in full effect until Galileo publicly withdraws from any involvement with the testing of CAPPS II."