Airlines Must Hand Over Passenger Data Next Week To Feds

The federal TSA agency wants the data to test latest anti-terrorism screening system



The Transportation Security Administration Monday set a hard deadline of Nov. 23 for U.S. airlines to provide passenger name record data so TSA can test its Secure Flight passenger pre-screening application. Once each of the 72 domestic airlines submits data, including passenger name, reservation date, travel itinerary, and form of payment for domestic flights between June 1 and June 30 of this year, testing is expected to last through the end of January.

TSA in September had set a tentative deadline for October but, after taking time to solicit reactions from parties ranging from the airlines to privacy groups, set the deadline for later this month. The Homeland Security Department, which governs TSA, has allocated $34 million in its 2005 budget for Secure Flight, says a TSA spokeswoman.

TSA is requiring airlines to send authentic passenger data so that it can better test the Secure Flight system. Secure Flight is designed to compare passenger data against the Terrorist Screening Center's Terrorist Screening Database. More specifically, passenger data will be checked against the database's "No-Fly" and "Selectee" lists to identify passengers known or "reasonably suspected" to be engaged in terrorist activity, according to the notice TSA issued Friday spelling out the Secure Flight program.

TSA and the White House Office of Management and Budget received about 500 public comments following Secure Flight's September announcement. Comments addressed a number of areas, including Secure Flight's effect on individual privacy and civil liberties, how the Secure Flight Test Records System would be used, passenger consent to the use of their data, a system for filing grievances for false positive matches, and possible conflicts with laws governing European Union data privacy requirements.

Some comments suggested Secure Flight use gun ownership as a basis for screening decisions, while other comments encouraged TSA to use ethnicity or national origin as a screening factor. TSA's response was that Secure Flight would comply with the Justice Department's June 2003 "Guidance Regarding Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies" document. This document states, "Racial profiling in law enforcement is not merely wrong, but also ineffective."

Secure Flight is intended to keep suspicious passengers from boarding domestic flights. Unlike its predecessor, the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), Secure Flight proposes to use passenger name data solely to combat terrorism and not for other law enforcement purposes, TSA Privacy Officer Lisa Dean wrote in a September memo describing Secure Flight.

OMB has given TSA permission to retain the passenger name record data through March 31, although the TSA spokeswoman says that TSA plans to complete Secure Flight testing by the end of January and destroy the data records afterward. Airlines can submit data online or via zip disk. TSA has not set guidelines for the format of that data.

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