CAPPS II privacy notice revised

Transportation Security Administration

The Homeland Security Department this week issued a revised privacy policy for its controversial computer system that combs databases to assess the risk posed by individual airline passengers, a senior official with the Transportation Security Agency said.

The new privacy announcement for the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II will be published in the Federal Register by the end of the week, said Carol DiBattiste, TSA's chief of staff.

"CAPPS II is going to be moving forward with some very aggressive time lines," DiBattiste said.

She did not elaborate on what would be included in the CAPPS II privacy policy, but she did defend the passenger screening system.

CAPPS II is "one of the most promising opportunities that we're using to improve the efficiency and effectiveness in aviation security," DiBattiste said today during a presentation at a forum in Reston, Va., sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Although CAPPS II has come under fire from privacy advocates, she praised the program for its effectiveness. "It will conduct far more effective authentication of traveler identity and improve security through a much more robust risk assessment process," she said.

DiBattiste also praised TSA's efforts, and emphasized a need for the government to work with the private sector to institute innovative technology. "Innovation is one of our core values. TSA should continue to embrace open communication with our private-sector partners," she said. "It's not just a federal challenge. It's an American challenge, which will require a whole new way of approaching information gathering and analysis, threat assessment, risk management, response, and restoration."

While speaking of TSA's accomplishments, DiBattiste reported that more than "4.8 million dangerous items have been identified, intercepted and kept off aircraft," including more than 1,100 firearms, nearly 1.4 million knives and almost 40,000 box cutters.

"I think we have made a difference," she said. "Do we need to do more? Yes. Is our nation more secure than it was on Sept. 11, [2001]? Yes. But it's a journey, and we're definitely not where we need to be."

According to David Sobel, general cousel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, "The first thing that would be an obvious improvement is if this notice specifically addresses CAPPS II."

EPIC filed a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit June 11, alleging that TSA had not complied with requests for details about the program.

Sobel noted that "a big problem has been providing a process for challenging erroneous designations" and offering people an course of action if they are wrongly identified as a threat.

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