Critics Call Air Coding Plan “Illusory Security.”


A federal antiterrorism plan to screen airline passengers into color-coded groups via personal information about them in computer databases is drawing criticism from civil libertarians and privacy advocates, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Travelers would be classified either as green for good to go, yellow for investigate further and red for stop from flying.

The Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security says the data-mining plan will start this summer after a testing period in the next few months. The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the plan as “dragnet profiling” that would discriminate against minorities and the poor. There will be legal challenges from privacy and civil liberties advocates, said Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego.

The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS II, would require all airline travelers to provide full names, home addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth when they book flights. The government would feed that information into commercial databases to profile the travelers, assigning each passenger a color code based on the estimated security risk he or she poses. The databases would include government lists of suspected criminals and terrorists, commercial systems that compile public records, such as Lexis-Nexis and Acxiom, and information on consumers, such as mailing lists, that has been “data-mined” by marketers. The government decided against using credit records after protests.

“CAPPS II is illusory security on the cheap,” Barry Steinhardt of ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “Instead of zeroing in on suspects based on real evidence of wrongdoing, it sweeps every airline passenger through a dragnet. From business class on down to coach, you’re going to be checked against secret government intelligence databases. What happens in cases of mistaken identity or simple computer error?”

Givens predicted that CAPPS II “will not only implicate a lot of innocent people because of a high number of false positives but also will lead to a false feeling of security. The terrorists will figure this out in no time flat, and they will easily figure out how to evade the system.”


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