CAPPS II faces scrutiny before funding

Transportation Security Administration

An amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill calls for much stricter review of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II (CAPPS II) before funding is approved.

The House Appropriations Committee voted June 17 to withhold fiscal 2004 funding for CAPPS II, pending a review by the General Accounting Office.

The amendment, spearheaded by Rep. Martin Olav Sabo (D-Minn.), also directs the National Academy of Sciences to study the system's effects on passengers' privacy and civil liberties.

Sabo offered the new provisions during the full committee markup of a fiscal 2004 House appropriations bill that allots $29.4 billion to the Homeland Security Department. CAPPS II falls under the direction of DHS' Transportation Security Administration.

In a press release, Sabo described CAPPS II as "potentially the largest ever intrusion of the federal government into our personal lives."

CAPPS II would seek to verify passenger identity based on four pieces of personal information: name, address, phone number and date of birth.

Although the CAPPS II proposal involves deleting this information after each flight, the possibility of mislabeling individual passengers as potential terrorist threats is a prominent concern of privacy advocates.

"I am very concerned about a federal agency mining sensitive personal data for this common event," Sabo said. "Additionally, I am not confident that CAPPS II databases would be well-protected from hackers, or that law-abiding citizens who are mistakenly 'flagged' by the system will have an adequate means to correct erroneous records."

Sabo also expressed concern about TSA's record of mismanagement. "The agency that cannot even properly perform background checks on the people it hires to screen us seeks to profile personal information of every air passenger," Sabo said. "We should proceed very carefully."

The call for review comes just days before the expected TSA release of a revised privacy policy for CAPPS II. That much-anticipated Privacy Act notice will soon be published in the Federal Register.

Provisions of the Sabo amendment:

* Provide a system for passengers to correct information and appeal mislabelings.

* Ensure that the underlying error rate of government and private databases used in the program will not produce a large number of mislabelings.

* Ensure that TSA has stress-tested and demonstrated the efficacy and accuracy of CAPPS II search tools.

* Require the secretary of Homeland Security to establish an internal oversight board to monitor the development of CAPPS II.

* Ensure that TSA has built in operational safeguards.

* Ensure that security measure against hackers or other intruders are in place.

* Require TSA to adopt policies establishing effective oversight of the use and operation of the system.

* Ensure that there are no specific privacy concerns with the technological architecture of the system.

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