ACLU, Conservatives Want CAPPS II Grounded

Prominent conservatives and liberal groups said Monday that the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS II) airport security system is the “logical outgrowth of the bureaucratic fixation on technological quick fixes to highly complicated international and domestic security problems.”

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.

The Monday conference hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU included former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Hilary Shelton of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP. They stressed there are still potential threats to privacy and civil rights contained in the revised CAPPS II program.

“Not only would CAPPS II threaten privacy and likely reduce security, but there’s no guarantee against bias in the system,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative office. “Further, TSA officials are already hinting that CAPPS II could be used outside of the airports — a clear example of mission creep.”

Although the TSA dropped its previous plans to access passenger credit records and said it would only use commercial information to help verify name, address and date of birth, Murphy said the “TSA still intends to use highly classified intelligence and law enforcement data to measure threat levels.”

Murphy added, “The intrusive and dangerous element of the program — the construction of a system for conducting background checks — would depend on shadowy intelligence/law enforcement databases of questionable reliability.”

In other words, Murphy said, “Credit records, highly personal medical, business, educational and mental health information could still conceivably be mined, but in the shadow world of national intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies. Once dinged by the system, somebody falsely identified as a “Yellow” (the system’s highest security risk) would have no recourse to correct mistaken information in this black box, dooming that traveler to a TSA blacklist.”

The ACLU contends that by taking the first steps toward linking commercial data collected by “data aggregators” like ChoicePoint or Axciom with the national security infrastructure, a system like CAPPS II represents the emerging ability of the government to “see” and access entire lives.

“Everything from a preference for Advil over Tylenol to participation in an anti-war rally in 1969 to a subscription to The Economist to membership in the ACLU becomes available for total recall at a moment’s notice with such a ‘synergy of surveillance.'” Murphy said.

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