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Air passenger screening system alarms privacy advocates

Air passenger screening system alarms privacy advocates

A coalition of privacy and civil rights organizations is asking Congress to stop the deployment of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) recently announced airline passenger profiling system

A coalition of privacy and civil rights organizations is asking Congress to stop the deployment of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) recently announced airline passenger profiling system. In a letter addressed to the chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security last week, coalition members urged Congress to carefully assess the program's effectiveness and its privacy implications before allowing the TSA to move forward. Coalition members include the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and American Civil Liberties Union.

The TSA is believed to have started testing a second-generation airline passenger profiling system known as the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II (CAPPS-II) in early March.

TSA has asked Delta Air Lines Inc. to provide assistance during early infrastructure testing by providing it with passenger data relating to name, address, telephone number and date of birth of passengers.

The system is being developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin Management and Data Systems. It can confirm a passenger's identity and any potential security threat the passenger might pose in less than five seconds, according to a description of the system on the TSA's Web site.

Under the plan, the TSA will require every U.S. commercial air carrier to supply it with passenger information collected during the reservation and ticketing process. This information will then be combined with credit and other personal data contained in government and commercial databases to arrive at a risk score for every passenger.

The proposed plan is evoking a maelstrom of protest from privacy and civil rights groups that are questioning the efficacy of such a profiling system and charge that it's a violation of privacy.

"There are serious civil liberties issues with any data mining program whose result will be used to determine whether Americans are eligible to fly or not," said Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy rights organization in San Francisco.

There are also serious questions about whether such profiling is effective, said Chris Hoofnagle, a deputy consul at the EPIC in Washington. "One should ask why we should build this incredible system of identification, authentication and profiling when we could take the money and focus on less-invasive and proven technologies" such as bomb-detection equipment, he said.-- Computerworld (US)

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