Secure Flight FOIA denial appealed

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is appealing the Transportation Security Administration's denial of EPIC's Freedom of Information Act request for a speedy release of documents about the controversial Secure Flight program.

"It's EPIC's opinion that Secure Flight is very much like" the former Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II system, said Marcia Hofmann, EPIC staff counsel. "If you look at the Federal Register Notices, [they] exempt Secure Flight from many privacy policies." Center officials filed a number of FOIA requests with TSA, the FBI and Customs and Border Patrol to obtain clarity on the Federal Register Notices. "None of the agencies have been responsive," Hofmann said.

Critics of Secure Flight have complained that the program, which calls on airlines to submit passenger names for comparisons to lists of known or suspected terrorists, lacks due process if passengers are improperly flagged and has no data retention limit.

"I think it could be a program that creates a false sense of security [and a violation of privacy,] and it can create a situation in which people are deprived of the ability to fly," Hofmann added.

Secure Flight, announced Aug. 26, will begin in November as the latest phase of a two-year program that will cost more than $100 million. Officials say Secure Flight will include a redress mechanism through which people can resolve questions if they believe they have been unfairly or incorrectly selected for additional screening.

The deadline for comments on how to screen passengers is Oct. 25. EPIC officials believe the public comment period should be extended.

In September, TSA officials announced privacy protections for Secure Flight and started gathering names of passengers who traveled on all airlines in June. The Privacy Impact Assessment outlines how TSA officials will handle the flow of information. Domestic airlines are supposed to begin the transfer of data in late October.

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