Thursday, February 12, 2009

Airline Security after 9/11

After the unfortunate attack on September 11, 2001 the country as a whole became concerned about further terrorist attacks. Many new policies and technologies have been created in an effort to detect and prevent further terrorist attacks. One of these technologies is the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS. CAPPS has been the subject of much debate concerning the exact use of the database.

The Transportation Security Administration, at the order of Congress, assembled CAPPS after the September 11, 2001 attack. CAPPS was designed to be a nationwide database that compares passenger names against watch lists, traveler credit reports, and consumer transactions. The databases considered for use with CAPPS are credit bureaus and ChoicePoint, both of which aggregate and sell information. Before flight, passengers are required to provide their names, phone numbers, and addresses to be checked for accuracy. The commercial databases will then use algorithms to judge whether a person booking a ticket is who he/she claims to be. A boarding pass will be issued with either a green, yellow, or red score. Passengers with a red score will be detained until federal law enforcement officials arrive.

CAPPS has the potential to ferret out would be terrorists; it also has the potential to be harshly abused. David Sobel, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, stated, "Even in the wake of Sept. 11, people are still worried about the collection and use of their personal information." (work cited) A document list, obtained from the Electronic Privacy Information Center through a lawsuit with the FBI, stated the databases "Еcontain billions of public records including: property records, census information, professional licenses, telephone books, newspaper articles, drivers records, vehicle records and credit bureau headers." (work cited)

When CAPPS was first created it had very few guidelines to follow. People fear a government that heavily monitors the transactions of everyday people. [Some of the complaints against the CAPPS program specified the use of CAPPS as a method of capturing deadbeat dads, or screening out passengers who fit a criminal pattern, or that the system would retain information for up to 50 years.] Sen. Ron Wyden said in a written statement, "We cannot stand by and allow the government to shine a spotlight onto the personal records of law abiding citizens who have a constitutionally protected right to privacy. It is Congress' duty to find out on behalf of all Americans what federal agencies are hoping to do with their personal information." Jim Dempsey, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said, "On the one hand, we want people with outstanding warrants to be caught. On the other hand, we have not been a checkpoint society. We will fundamentally change the nature of our society if we start exploiting our societyТs gates for general law enforcement."

In response to the public outcry of objection to the limitless CAPPS, the Transportation Security Administration began to issue more detailed regulations. Jim Dempsey said in support of these changes, "Maybe a person wanted for armed robbery flies on airplanes, but he's not going to rob a person on an plane." These regulations limit the type of information that CAPPS can gather from commercial databases, restricts the amount of time that the system will hold onto the data, and restricts the database owners from using this data for any other purpose. Lisa Dean of the Electronic Frontier Foundation stated, "No health or financial data will be used. Information will be retained for days, not years. And no (Internal Revenue Service) or deadbeat dads databases will be used." CAPPS will, however, allow the Transportation Security Administration to look for people suspected of "crimes of violence" as well as domestic groups suspected of terrorism. As part of this system the Transportation Security Administration plans to create a Passenger Advocate Office that will identify the sources of false data and correct them.

As a further peace offering to the privacy advocates, who are still leary of a surveillance society, the Transportation Security Administration stated it would not release CAPPS for an additional 60 days so that further views could be submitted regarding the system. The Department of Homeland Security Chief Privacy Officer, Nuala O'Conner Kelly, stated that the new rule would increase passenger security while still respecting the privacy of travelers. The Transportation Security Administration, administrator Adm. James M. Loy, said that CAPPS would reduce the wait times, the number of passengers who go through secondary screenings, and the number of people misidentified as potential terrorists. With all these new regulations CAPPS ended up with a new name as well, CAPPS II.

CAPPS II will be instrumental as a device to prevent attacks like the September 11, 2001 attack in the future. CAPPS II is a double-edged sword, though, in that the amount of information the system has access to is mind-boggling and could be used to the detriment of law-abiding citizens. With careful regulation and a fierce determination not to pry into the lives of private citizens, CAPPS II could be the most effective weapon we have against terrorist attack. Luckily, Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office plays referee with this statement, "There is broad agreement across the political spectrum that we must not allow America to turn into a surveillance society. Data surveillance programs inevitably erode our privacy, with demonstrating that doing so makes us any safer." With privacy advocates like Laura Murphy calling foul, we should be just fine.

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