The Senate's Governmental Affairs Committee is investigating what role the Transportation Security Administration may have played in compelling JetBlue Airways to provide passenger records for an experimental Defense Department data-mining project. In a letter disclosed last week, addressed to Asa Hutchinson, the Department of Homeland Security's undersecretary for border and transportation security, the committee asked for copies of any written communications from TSA to JetBlue related to the Defense Department project and, if any such communications did exist, an explanation as to why Congress didn't know about them. The letter was signed by committee chairman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and member Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.
Collins wants to know if TSA asked JetBlue for data
Photo by Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call Photos
JetBlue said in September that it had provided Pentagon contractor Torch Concepts with information on more than 1 million of its passengers to help test database software for identifying potential terrorists. The Senate committee wants to know if TSA, which is part of Homeland Security, asked JetBlue directly to turn over passenger data without first notifying the public, as required by law. TSA didn't respond to requests for comment.
JetBlue was reluctant to provide Torch Concepts with passengers' names, addresses, and phone numbers without TSA's approval, according to the Governmental Affairs Committee's letter. "It is our understanding that TSA did provide such an approval in the form of a written request to JetBlue, asking the airline to provide [passenger] data to Torch Concepts," the letter says.
JetBlue says it's unable to comment on whether TSA compelled it to provide passenger information. The airline is embroiled in class-action lawsuits related to the incident. Most major airlines say they don't provide passenger data to private contractors or the federal government for use in aviation-security research unless required to do so by law.
The Senate committee's letter comes on the heels of a General Accounting Office report that says the second iteration of Homeland Security's Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening antiterrorism program, CAPPS II, failed to meet seven of eight requirements that Congress mandated as a precondition to additional funding for the program.