ACLU Applauds Sensible Scope of Bush Airport Security Plan; Asks for Meeting with Transportation Officials

September 27, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the sensible scope of President Bush’s proposals for changes in airport security — including a program to strengthen aircraft cockpit doors and an increase in federal oversight for airport baggage screeners — and wrote to the Secretary of Transportation to ask for continuing input as the nation develops and implements air security measures.

“The Bush Administration showed an admirable degree of restraint by not suggesting airport security procedures that would deny civil liberties as a condition of air travel,” said Barry Steinhardt, the ACLU’s Associate Director who also co-directs the ACLU’s working group on civil liberties and technology.

While expressing support for the President’s restraint, the ACLU noted that many have urged the Federal Aviation Administration to consider other measures that may pose a greater threat to civil liberties. Among these measures are profiling by race and national origin to identify alleged security threats and monitoring all passengers with biometric systems such as facial recognition.

In its letter to Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, the ACLU said that it is “interested in working with the FAA in a constructive manner to forge an airport security system that protects our security and our civil liberties – a system that keeps us both safe and free.

“There is a tendency, especially in a time of crisis, to reflexively turn to high technology to solve our security needs,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “But some of these technologies are either grossly inaccurate or do not deliver the level of security promised. Americans should not be asked to sacrifice our privacy in exchange for a false sense of security.”

Facial recognition technologies, for example, have been found to be extremely inaccurate. One government study found such a system failed to identify a posed photograph of a subject 43 percent of the time. “We are confident,” Steinhardt said, “that deliberate study and open discussion of biometric identifiers and facial recognition technologies will show that it is neither practical nor commensurate with American values to try to use them on all airline passengers.”

The ACLU supports the use of effective security improvements to enhance airport safety that have minimal risk to privacy and rights to equality, maximum benefits for security and are proportionate to the level of risk. Among the measures it supports are increased screening of and training for airport security personnel, strict control of secured areas of airports, and luggage matching of all passengers. The ACLU also supports the use of biometric identification techniques with a proven record of accuracy (such as iris scans or digital fingerprints) to identify and authenticate airport personnel working in secured areas of airports. However the ACLU opposes proposals to use such technology on all airline passengers.

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