Hawley: Secure Flight set to take off

The Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight program should be operational in some capacity before the end of the Bush administration, the agency's administrator said today.


The program would place agency officials rather than the airlines in charge of screening air traveler data against government terrorist watch lists.


Kip Hawley, TSA's administrator, said that testing of the program's technology has gone well and that the wait for the program's implementation was now due to the regulatory rulemaking process that requires the administration to publish a final rule. TSA published a notice of proposed rulemaking for the program in August 2007.


Hawley said after a speech at an Aero Club of Washington lunch today that after the final rule is published, at some point between today and January 2009, airlines would begin to implement the program. TSA's bid to take greater control of the passenger pre-screening process has faced a series of delays.


That first version of Secure Flight was grounded in 2006 over criticism that it violated privacy laws. That version followed the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II project, which was scrapped after it was criticized by privacy groups and civil libertarians.


Hawley said he believes this version of the program addresses those concerns. TSA has been as transparent as possible in the process, he added.


"It will be done right because that's the bottom line," he said.


The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required TSA to assume the job of comparing passenger information to information on federal terrorist watch lists.


Hawley said once the final rule was published, the issue will become how well airlines are prepared to implement the new system. However, he also said he thought that airlines could use their participation as a marketing tool.


TSA says the program is a way to improve efficiency in the screening process and reduce the number of times passengers are incorrectly identified as suspected or known terrorists because of similarities in names.


According to the notice of proposed rulemaking, TSA will collect a passenger's full name and itinerary from the aircraft operator. The air carrier will also ask for additional optional information -- such as gender and date of birth -- that TSA says will help ensure passengers are not misidentified.

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Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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