Amendment Demanding Answers On Air Travel Data Mining Adopted in Committee

CAPPS-II Program Could Invade Air Travelers’ Privacy Without Proven Safety Gains

In a victory for civil liberties, the Senate Commerce Committee adopted an amendment to an air cargo safety bill that would demand answers about an invasive passenger profiling system. The amendment, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), now moves with the bill to the Senate floor. People For the American Way joined a coalition of civil liberties groups from across the ideological spectrum to urge Senators to adopt the language.

“This language, like Senator Wyden’s amendment locking down the Total Information Awareness program, is absolutely critical to protecting the civil liberties of countless air travelers,” said PFAW President Ralph G. Neas. “As with TIA, the Transportation Security Administration’s data-mining efforts if left unchecked could shred the privacy of millions of innocent people every year, without any proven benefit in air safety.”

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) seeks to implement the second generation Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS-II), which would access vast amounts of “financial and transactional data” as well as other information on innocent air travelers in an effort to assign passengers a security score and color code. Based on this information, passengers would be singled out for different levels of security attention before flying, and, in some cases, may be barred from boarding a plane altogether.

“By the TSA’s own account, someone’s score could be affected because they are ‘not rooted in the community.’ This rudimentary system is as likely to red-flag graduate students and military contractors as it is to identify potential terrorists,” said Neas. “Without an accounting of what data CAPPS-II will rely on, what systems are in place to ensure that people aren’t wrongly tagged as terrorists, and exactly how the profiles will be generated, this program should not be allowed to continue. Senator Wyden’s amendment ensures we get the necessary information.”

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