Contract change puts personal data at risk

What will happen to customer data when Registered Traveler operators go out of business?

The fate of digital fingerprints and other personal data belonging to 165,000 people enrolled in the Transportation Security Administration’s Registered Traveler program is in question after the sudden closure of the program’s largest private partner June 22.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and two subcommittee chairmen are urging TSA to take a stronger role in protecting the personal data held by now-defunct Verified Identity Pass.

The company was the largest private operator of Registered Traveler. In its program, called Clear, prescreened and enrolled travelers received expedited service through security clearances at 20 airports. TSA is considered a co-sponsor because it mandates many of the requirements for participating in Registered Traveler.

Thompson said TSA apparently did not set rules for disposing of personal data if a Registered Traveler operator shuts down. “We are concerned about the security and safety of the information currently held by Clear,” he wrote to the agency in a letter dated June 25.

A TSA spokeswoman on June 30 said officials were drafting a response to Thompson’s letter.

On its Web site, Verified Identity Pass said it is protecting the information and assured customers that the data cannot be used for any other purpose. “If the information is not used for a Registered Traveler program, it will be deleted,” the company said.

If the information is not fully secured, criminals could combine the biometric fingerprint data with the other personal data to commit identity theft, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “From the customer side, there is a significant concern here,” he said. “The government is creating new privacy and identity theft risks.”

Jena McNeill, homeland security policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said the situation is not unusual.

“Just because a private company has your information does not mean that there is an inherent risk when a company goes out of business,” McNeill said. “However, given the fact that this is a public/private partnership between TSA and Verified Identity Pass, TSA does have some role in maintaining the trust of the American people.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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