Passenger ID system makes progress

The Transportation Security Administration has awarded a contract for the beginning stages of a system that will perform background checks and risk assessments on airline travelers, according to the agency's top official.

The tool, a substantially advanced version of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) now in use, is being designed to cull multiple government and commercial databases for information that could indicate a potential threat.

"CAPPS I simply is a rules-based system with inadequate identification," James Loy, undersecretary of Transportation for security, said Dec. 9 at the E-Gov Homeland Security 2002 conference in Washington, D.C. The upgraded system will provide sufficient identification and a "very, very real merged database of people we know are the wrong guys."

CAPPS II has raised concerns about privacy and profiling, a technique Loy said he supports.

"Profiling with a lowercase "p" is not as distasteful [but] simply a step in the well-being of the citizenry," he said, distinguishing between racial profiling and the type he envisions TSA implementing.

Profiling, however, is only one part of a larger security scheme. Senior screeners, for example, must also be trained as better observers, he said.

TSA has already met 36 of 37 milestones set under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the legislation that created the agency a little more than a year ago. That includes deploying more than 45,000 federal screeners at 429 commercial airports. The final deadline is to screen all baggage for explosives by Dec. 31.

Operating under a continuing resolution, in effect until Jan. 11, 2003, has made the agency's job harder, according to Loy. "The ongoing [continuing resolution] has been very, very difficult," he said. "It has precluded us growing out."

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