CAPPS II is not dead yet, but changes are likely

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Despite rumors last week of its demise, the Transportation Security Administration's controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II will not be cancelled. The system, however, will be revamped in response to outcries from privacy and consumer advocates and technical complications.

Even after Homeland Security Department officials said that CAPPS II would continue, the agency offered an array of conflicting reports on the fate of the program, which has cost TSA $102 million since 2002.

Last week, DHS Secretary Tom Ridge surprised lawmakers and congressional staff when he pronounced the controversial screening system dead.

Earlier in the week, TSA's acting administrator, David Stone, told a Senate committee that the agency was considering changes in four important components. Stone said efforts to reshape CAPPS II would depend on whether one or more of those components would be scaled back or eliminated.

Late in the week, however, a DHS public affairs spokesperson offered a more optimistic perspective on the fate of CAPPS II.

"A good portion that's already been done will be kept because it's already being used in situations where we're able to vet international flight crews," said Suzanne Luber, a DHS spokeswoman. She declined to speculate on whether a $12 million contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. would be affected. DHS officials have set no date for completing their changes, she said.

During his nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Stone said he hopes to reduce the number of travelers screened twice from 16 percent to less than six percent.

If officials overhaul CAPPS II, it won't be the first time they have reworked the controversial risk-assessment program. CAPPS II represents a revision of an earlier incarnation of the program.

But privacy advocacy groups celebrated what they claim as a victory.

"What it really shows is that unless you seriously take privacy into account from the start, a program like this cannot succeed," said Lara Flint, a spokeswoman for the Center for Democracy and Technology.

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UP FOR REVIEW

The Transportation Security Administration's acting administrator, David Stone, said officials will revamp the agency's Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II. Officials are considering changes to four parts of the current system that have generated controversy.

Those functional components include:

Comparing names on passenger lists with names in commercial databases.

Comparing passenger lists with databases at the FBI-led Terrorist Screening Center

to look for matches to names on terrorist lists.

Assessing the degree of risk posed by selected passengers at checkpoints.

Comparing passenger names to those in a database of individuals wanted for violent crimes and outstanding warrants.

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