TSA dropping commercial data from Secure Flight

The Transportation Security Administration is no longer going to use commercial data containing personal information in its Secure Flight passenger-screening program, TSA officials said today.

Before implementing Secure Flight, TSA will have to publish a privacy impact notice and other notifications about the program in the Federal Register, said Deirdre O’Sullivan, a TSA spokeswoman.

“It does not appear at this time that it will have commercial data in it,” O'Sullivan said.

Two airlines are going to give passenger’s full names and birthdates to TSA, which will check the information against a consolidated terrorist watch list, O'Sullivan said. TSA will then notify the airlines whether any passengers appear on the list.

Secure Flight is scheduled for deployment sometime before the end of this year, she said.

The Secure Flight Working Group of TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Council issued a statement Sept. 22 criticizing the agency, O'Sullivan said. The working group was supposed to give the council a report that day about Secure Flight’s privacy impact. However, TSA did not provide sufficient information in time.

“They asked a lot of questions that TSA did not have answers for at the time they asked them,” O’Sullivan said. TSA has since provided some answers and is keeping stakeholder groups informed, she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has opposed Secure Flight, applauded the announcement.

"The decision by the TSA to drop commercial data from Secure Flight is a welcome move, but TSA needs to commit publicly that it will never use files on Americans compiled by commercial data brokers,” said Timothy Sparapani, an ACLU legislative counsel.

TSA strengthened Secure Flight's privacy protections after a Government Accountability Office audit in July found that the program had collected more than 100 million commercial data records containing personal information without informing the public.

TSA said it supplemented its passenger data with the commercial data to help reduce mistakes when comparing travelers' information to national terrorist watch lists.

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