ACLU Applauds Congressional Inquiry Into Government Watchlists, Says Secure Flight Program Still Plagued With Problems and Cannot Be Launched

June 29, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a key House panel for holding an oversight hearing on screening programs for airline passengers. Of particular concern is the controversial Secure Flight screening program, which has continuously been delayed due to unaddressed privacy and effectiveness concerns.

“In its current state, Secure Flight fails to make the flying public safer, and it fails to protect our most sensitive information,” said Timothy Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The program has failed multiple government evaluations, yet it is still being pushed forward. Secure Flight is not ready to be rolled out, and lawmakers must ensure that our privacy is protected.”

The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Cybersecurity met today to discuss “Improving Pre-Screening of Aviation Passengers against Terrorist and Other Watch Lists.” The ACLU noted that the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration recently disclosed that the agency collected and stored personal data about airline travelers, despite a Congressional ban and promises from the agency that it would not do so.

Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office put Secure Flight into a holding pattern because the program was behind schedule, its core component -accurately matching airline data against watch lists – still had ongoing problems and its financial cost had not been calculated.

Worse still, the GAO report found that the Secure Flight program has a gaping security flaw that will render it ineffective. Potential terrorists could simply engage in identity theft to obtain clean identities, the ACLU warned, thus allowing them to circumvent the scrutiny of Secure Flight. While the program was expected to be launched in August, it remains highly unlikely that TSA can meet that schedule.

Additionally, there are concerns that innocent travelers placed on the watchlists have little recourse to prove that they are legitimate travelers and not terrorists. Lawmakers today heard from a former presidential candidate who suffers frustrating, excessive scrutiny each time he flies. John Anderson’s story echoes those of thousands of other individuals whose name have been placed on so-called “no-fly” lists and routinely have problems traveling by airplane, even though government officials have cleared them. Anderson ran as an independent in 1980 against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, where he received 6 million votes.

“Despite the current problems, the government wants to go ahead with what should be called ‘insecure’ flight,” said Sparapani. “The scandals at ChoicePoint, Bank of America, and elsewhere show that our private information is at risk. The government should be working to protect that information – not on creating new targets like Secure Flight that give terrorists new incentives to steal our information and identities.”

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