TSA privacy policy hit

The Transportation Security Administration is denying airline passengers erroneously detained by an airport screening system any meaningful redress, a critic of the agency said today at the second public workshop held by the Homeland Security Department’s Privacy Office today.

David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, cited reports of people who have been misidentified and detained through the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II and Secure Flight screening processes.

DHS, through TSA, is “conducting background checks on every citizen before boarding flights, and many have encountered problems," Sobel said.

Privacy laws state that people have a right to access information about themselves that the government holds. They can make corrections to that information if they discover mistakes. DHS has exempted the screening system from the Privacy Act, so people who have been misidentified cannot make corrections or seek judicial redress, he said.

“The department has failed to create a meaningful redress system,” he said. “We don’t know if a name is also on other lists and whether it will be in the future. There is no real accountability or transparency.”

Elizabeth Withnell, DHS Privacy Office’s chief counsel, spoke in response and challenged Sobel's criticisms.

“There is a process in place for redress," she said. "We can debate whether it works.”

Audience members also raised questions about the timeliness of the department's response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Panelist Richard Huff, the recently retired co-director of the Justice Department’s Information and Privacy Office, said insufficient staffing and heavy volume were factors, but President Bush had imposed processes to push agencies to reply more quickly.

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