The Bush Administration is moving forward with a secretive new system for conducting background checks on all airline passengers that threatens to create a blacklist of Americans who cannot travel freely. This new government program, called the Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System or CAPPS II -- would search secret intelligence and law enforcement databases and rate every airline passenger a red-, yellow- or green-level threat.
Using easily falsified information such as name, home address, home phone number and date of birth, this system would check your identity against credit databases and then run your information through secret government databases to assess your security risk. These databases would likely be compiled using intelligence and law enforcement records, and could include personal information gleaned from commercial data such as purchase history and banking records.
Based on all of this information, you may be singled out for special security scrutiny, be referred to law enforcement, or even detained. If you are erroneously branded an elevated risk, you will not have access to the false information on which that judgment was based, and will not have access to a meaningful appeal process. Many innocent people will likely be caught up in this system, facing significant delays or even detention.
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We all agree that airport security is vitally important but this system will not make us any safer since terrorists could circumvent the system using simple methods like fake driver's licenses.
The nation's major airlines are reluctantly going along with this program, despite concerns raised by civil rights advocates, the business community, Members of Congress and even the General Accounting Office (GAO). Their participation would allow the construction of lifetime travel dossiers on you and your family.
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Innocent people will inevitably be caught up in this system. Innocent people have already been stopped and banned from flying because their name appeared on government "no fly" lists -- and have been unable to clear their names in the federal bureaucracy. Since it is based on notoriously inaccurate government databases, this national system would only increase the delays and make it inevitable that innocent Americans -- regular people traveling for work or vacations - would be delayed, hassled and even prevented from flying.
The CAPPS II judgments of travelers will be rooted in secrecy.
The most intrusive and dangerous element of the program - the construction of an infrastructure for conducting background checks and maintaining dossiers on people who fly - would depend on shadowy intelligence/law enforcement databases. The use of these covert databases would remove meaningful public oversight and control over these un-American background checks.
CAPPS II will not make us any safer.
Security at our nation's airports is vitally important but this system is fundamentally flawed. Terrorists will easily circumvent the system by simply presenting a false driver's license or passport, thereby undercutting the system's entire mission. The constant false alarms might divert the attention of airport security officers from legitimate threats to security.