Secure Flight starts taking names

Transportation Security Administration officials announced today privacy protections for the controversial Secure Flight program and started gathering names of passengers who traveled on all airlines in June.

The Privacy Impact Assessment lays out how TSA officials will handle the flow of information. Domestic airlines should begin the transfer of data in late October.

TSA officials recently overhauled the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II and will take over responsibility for checking airline passengers' names against terrorist watch lists.

The government program, announced Aug. 26, will begin in November as the latest phase of a two-year program that will cost more than $100 million. The overhaul follows a CAPPS II review ordered by Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge in July.

Unlike the previous proposal, the new system will look only for known or suspected terrorists, not other law enforcement violators. In addition, it will include a redress mechanism through which people can resolve questions if they believe they have been unfairly or incorrectly selected for additional screening.

TSA officials are optimistic. "Testing will begin once we've actually gathered the data, at least not until November," said Darrin Kayser, a TSA spokesman.

"This is an important moment in aviation security," said retired Rear Adm. David Stone, assistant secretary of homeland security at TSA. "We are advancing a vital tool to combat terrorism and checking off another recommendation from the 9-11 Commission."

Privacy experts called today's announcement an improvement, but said core CAPPS II problems still remain. "It still contains a mysterious, secret process about who gets screened...[and questions about] mission creep, due process and effectiveness," said Jay Stanley, communication director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Project. "None of these things matter if it's not going to work. A terrorist who commits identity theft is going to sail through the system."

The information that TSA officials will collect includes full name, phone number, mailing address and travel itinerary, which is limited to domestic flight segments that were completed prior to June 30.

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