Passenger screening program to collect more data

Airlines to start asking for more data from travelers under government screening program

Airlines will start asking passengers to provide their birth dates and gender on Aug. 15 as the Transportation Security Administration continues to take over from airlines the responsibility of screening travelers against subsets of the government's terrorist watch list.

The additional information will be required from passengers as part of TSA’s Secure Flight passenger vetting program. However, if passengers aren’t prompted to provide the additional information by a particular airline, they shouldn’t worry as it won’t affect their travel, TSA said in a statement.

As part of that multibillion-dollar, multi-phase information technology program, aircraft operators will be required to provide every passenger’s information to TSA. That agency, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, will then compare that information to the relevant watch list subsets and tell the airline whether it is authorized to print a boarding pass.

TSA hopes to do the vetting of all passengers on domestic commercial flights by early 2010 and all passengers on commercial international flights by the end of next year, TSA said in a statement Aug. 12. Meanwhile, airlines began asking passengers to provide their full names as they appear on the government-issued identification they’re using to travel starting May 15 as part of Secure Flight.

Without Secure Flight in place, aircraft operators, such as commercial airlines, have been responsible for comparing domestic flight passenger data to subsets of the consolidated terrorist watch list that are related to aviation security, such as the no-fly and selectee lists. Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also a DHS agency, has performed the matching function for international flights to or from the United States as part of its overall screening of travelers.

Officials say Secure Flight will improve security and the additional data elements it requires will help reduce misidentifications. Federal authorities have come under fire for highly publicized examples of individuals facing consistent delays and difficulty when traveling because their names match someone else’s on the no-fly list or other terrorist watch list.

Steve Lott, a spokesman from the International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 U.S. and international airlines, said his organization appreciates that TSA has been open to suggestions and generally worked well with industry since the final rule for Secure Flight was published last October.

Lott also said TSA’s phased-in-approach for the program is a good plan. However, he added that the system hadn’t yet been stressed to the point it will be when it’s fully operational.

The release of the Secure Flight final rule marked a milestone in the government’s effort to take over passenger screening as required by a 2004 law. Previous attempts faced a series of delays spurred in part by concerns about privacy that officials say have been rectified.

In the final rule, DHS estimated it will cost carriers about $498.8 million to reprogram and maintain their computer systems over the next 10 years and the airlines an additional $130 million for data collection to accommodate the program. The government will have to pay $1.43 billion over the same period, the department estimated.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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