September 21, 2004 1:44 PM PDT

Feds order airlines to divulge passenger details

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that it will order airlines to hand over the complete records of all passengers who traveled on a domestic flight in the month of June.

In an "emergency" notice, the department's Transportation Security Administration said that the requirement is necessary to test a controversial computer "prescreening" system that attempts to identify terrorists before passengers are permitted to board their flight. The system is called Secure Flight.

The information that airlines will be required to divulge by Oct. 29 includes, at a minimum, the passenger's name, reservation date, travel agent, itinerary information, form of payment, flight number and seating information.

TSA said that it will use those passenger records in two ways. First, it will verify that Secure Flight is able to match information on air travelers with records stored in government databases. Second, it will combine the passenger records with data purchased from unspecified "commercial data aggregators who provide services to the banking, home mortgage and credit industries" to see how much it may help the data-mining process.

Secure Flight is the renamed successor to the embattled Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS), which had drawn fire from some members of Congress who worried about the privacy implications of performing intensive background checks on Americans who chose to travel by air. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in July that CAPPS would be dismantled for that reason.

The department hopes that Tuesday's announcement, which promises that the data will be stored safely and securely, will quell some of the privacy worries. In a separate notice, TSA privacy official Lisa Dean wrote that the agency "believes it has taken action to mitigate any privacy risk by designing its next-generation passenger prescreening program to accommodate concerns expressed by privacy advocates, foreign counterparts and others."

Marcia Hofmann, staff counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that it was "unclear" whether TSA had the legal authority to demand the airlines' records. Hofmann also questioned whether it was wise to expand reliance on "watch lists" or "no fly lists," which can be problematic for innocent people whose names resemble those on the list.

Airlines will have a month to comment on the proposal before it takes effect. They will be required to divulge passenger records on optical media in an XML or other structure data format if available.

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One more freedom gone?
I thought the whole point of our fight was to preserve our freedom. It's obnoxious enough to even have an agency for "Homeland Security"--to many of us, this usage of the word homeland still conjures images of Nazi Germany. Now we are going to allow this agency to prescreen airline passengers.

If we voluntarily give up our freedoms in the name of the fight against terrorism, in my mind we have already lost the struggle.
Posted by Pete Bardo (687 comments )
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Boycott flying until Bush is gone
While I have the greatest sympathy for the people in the airline industry who are just doing their jobs the public must take a stand somehow against this fake-security tyranny that Bush/Ashcroft have imposed on us and the only appropriate statement we can make is to refuse to fly. We must refuse to fly and tell the world why. The lunatics who sent Cat Stevens home this week are incapable of being trusted with any information about us and we must not give them a chance to harvest any more. Buy yourself a nice RV or environmentally-friendly car and ride out the rest of this paranoid era in comfort.
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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You are absolutely right
The sad part is that Americans have been programmed better than probably even the North Koreans to just accepting whatever. Before long a future generation will be looking back at how did this country turned in a dictarship and their early 21st century forefathers will be looked upon with disdain.
Posted by mjaytee (1 comment )
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I'll keep my boots on and drive.
Now that my employer has allowed me an additional week of vacation time each year, I have chosen to quit flying. I used to fly grudgingly, because I was forced to do so by time constraints. I live in Chicago, and have family who have retired to Western North Carolina. This is about a 1400 mile round trip. Earlier this spring, I opted to drive 300 miles each way to/from Cincinatti, park my car, and ride the Greyhound Bus for the remaining 400 miles of the trip. Not once did I see any passenger being searched by a TSA agent or being asked to show a Government Issued Photo ID on this bus trip. Somehow, we still all managed to arrive alive at our destinations. This past week, I returned from North Carolina once again.This time, I drove the entire trip in my 1993 Ford Escort, which has 177,000+ miles on it. The trip cost me around $240 for gas and two overnight stays at chaep motels. This is in the ballpark of what connecting flights between Chicago and Asheville/Hendersonville NC would have cost me. I could have flown to Charlotte, about 2 HRS away from my final destination, where I'm sure my mom would have gladly picked me up at the airport, for an airfare of only $150. Is driving the chaepest, quickest, most efficient way to get from here to there. Absolutely not. Not having some government agent ordering you to take your shoes off at an airport security checkpoint: priceless.
Posted by KenRoz (3 comments )
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Uncle Sam doesn't accept cash
On a recent trip to the states I paid for all of my flights and train tickets in advance an with cash.

I had to endure rigurous 'enhanced security' screening before I boarded each flight and on a couple of train journeys along the BosWash corridor.

I guess Uncle Sam prefers Visa these days.
Posted by webbod (24 comments )
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