WASHINGTON - A coalition of conservative and civil liberties groups are still opposed to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) proposed airline passenger screening system, even though the agency revamped its plans in late July because of public outcry.
The Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System II (CAPPS II) is already suffering from "mission creep" away from its core goal of protecting airlines from terrorists, because the TSA is already proposing that the system flag common criminals with outstanding warrants, said former U.S. Representative Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia. He and others at a press conference in Washington, D.C., Monday, questioned how arresting people who have committed minor crimes will make airplanes safe from terrorism.
"I've never seen a database that Congress hasn't attempted to expand," said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Washington, D.C., legislative office, during the press conference, organized by the ACLU.
Others criticized TSA for saying it won't release the criteria used to assign airplane passengers a risk score in CAPPS II, a proposed replacement for an earlier passenger screening program that failed to prevent terrorists highjacking airlines on Sept. 11, 2001. The TSA itself may not know what information supplied by U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agencies, in addition to commercial data, causes a passenger to get a "yellow" rating, meaning the passenger will be subject to further scrutiny, or a "red" rating, meaning the passenger is immediately detained, Murphy said.
"This is like a black box of secret data," Murphy said. "In other words, credit records, highly personal medical, business, educational and mental health information could still conceivably be mined, but in the secret world of national intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies."
Murphy questioned how passengers wrongly flagged will be able to clear their names and avoid getting searched every time they board an airplane. "Someone falsely identified as 'yellow' would have no recourse to correct mistaken information in this black box, dooming that traveler to a TSA blacklist and a traveler's nightmare," Murphy said.
With about 2.5 million passengers boarding airplanes in the U.S. or bound for the U.S. every day, even a 1 or 2 percent error rate in CAPPS II would produce millions of false positives a year, Barr noted.
TSA released a joint statement from Admiral James Loy, the TSA's administrator, and Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in response to the ACLU press conference. The statement said the agencies are "engaged in an historic, responsible dialogue with the traveling public" to develop CAPPS II.
"CAPPS II will use limited passenger information to make flying more secure without impinging on individual privacy rights," the statement continued. "As part of this commitment to keep the skies safe and defend the homeland, we have an absolute obligation to prevent terrorists and the most violent criminal fugitives from gaining access to our commercial aviation system. CAPPS II will ensure that passengers do not sit next to known terrorists and wanted murderers."