CAPPS II faces overhaul

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"ACLU challenge"

The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II will proceed in a dramatically different form -- but will not be cancelled -- after facing significant operational hurdles and months of outcry from privacy and consumer groups.

"I think that a good portion that's already been done will be kept because it's already being used in situations where we're able to vet international flight crews, for example," said Suzanne Luber, a spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department.

She declined to speculate whether the $12 million CAPPS II contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. would be revised. There is no projected timeline for the completion of the revamped program, Luber said.

DHS Secretary Tom Ridge pronounced the controversial screening system dead July 14. But a day earlier, David Stone, the Transportation Security Administration acting administrator, told a Senate committee that the program would continue, though with profound changes to four major components. These include:

Verifying names against a commercial database.

Comparing names to databases at the Terrorist Screening Center.

Assessing risk of detained passengers at a checkpoint.

Creating a database of individuals wanted for violent crimes and outstanding warrants.

Stone said efforts to reshape CAPPS II would center on deciding which of the program's four pillars would be trimmed or eliminated. CAPPS II sought to remedy problems that appeared in the earlier incarnation of the passenger screening system.

About 16 percent of passengers are screened a second time, Stone told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Agency officials hope to reduce that to less than six percent, he added.

The program seeks to confirm the identity of passengers and keep terrorists off commercial aircraft by enabling airport security officials to consult a list to identify and detain certain travelers. CAPPS II has been plagued by lawsuits and complaints from privacy advocacy groups, consumer advocates and skeptical lawmakers.

A name change for CAPPS II could be among the efforts to repackage the program.

It's too early to determine whether the CAPPS II overhaul will affect other controversial screening programs such as Registered Traveler, a centralized watch list developed by officials at the Terrorist Screening Center, or the no-fly list.

Meanwhile, privacy advocacy groups celebrated what they considered a victory.

"What it really shows is that unless you seriously take privacy into account from the start, a program like this cannot succeed," said Lara Flint, a spokeswoman for the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It leaves unanswered some questions about the system as it works today. For example, we know the no-fly list has caught up a lot of people that had the bad luck of having the same name as someone on the list. ... There still needs to be a robust redress process for people caught up in that."


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