Senate Cans CAPPS II Funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week denied any funding for the controversial the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) until the General Accounting Office (GAO) produces a study on the privacy impact of the program.

In early March, the Bush administration revealed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a department of the DHS, planned to scan government and commercial databases for potential terrorist threats when a passenger makes flight reservations. Under the program, airline passengers would be required to provide their full name plus address, phone number and date of birth.

Once that information is entered, the airline computer reservation system, initially being tested by Delta Airlines, automatically links to the TSA for a computer background check on the traveler that can include a credit, banking history and criminal background check.

The TSA would then assign a red, yellow or green score to the passenger based on the agency’s risk assessment of the traveler. The score color would then be encrypted on the passenger’s boarding pass. A green score would allow passengers to proceed through the usual airport security checks. Passengers with a yellow score would be subjected to additional security checks and a red score would ground the passenger.

According to a January Federal Register notice containing some details of the program, a yellow code in a person’s file could be shared with other government agencies at the federal, state and local level, with intelligence agencies such as the CIA and with foreign governments and international agencies.

Concerned that the CAPPS II program could violate the privacy and civil liberties of the flying public, Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) in March introduced an amendment to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to report to Congress within 90 days on what impact the CAPPS II program will have on the privacy and civil liberties of United States citizens, including how individual information will be used and what safeguards will be implemented to protect the public’s rights.

Last month, DHS ceased testing its CAPPS II program pending its own privacy policy review.

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