ACLU Calls for End to Secure Flight and Registered Traveler Programs, Says TSA Passenger Screening Plans Fail to Identify Threats

February 9, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Appearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to end two fatally flawed, airline passenger pre-screening systems operated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA): Secure Flight and the Registered Traveler program. Both programs make America less safe while violating travelers’ civil liberties.

“Commercial data can tell you if a person might be a credit risk, but it cannot predict whether he or she will commit an act of terror at a future date,” said Timothy D. Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Basing our aviation security on this faulty premise is as unwise as relying on alchemy or astrology. Secure Flight and Registered Traveler have wasted nearly $200 million in public funds, countless human hours, and have undergone several name changes and repeated, unsuccessful reformulations of their underlying proposals. None of this changes the fact that TSA has misdirected its limited resources toward programs that not only make us less safer, but make us less free.”

Sparapani appeared today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation as that panel heard from the government and experts regarding the TSA’s aviation passenger pre-screening programs. Both Secure Flight and Registered Traveler are based on the dubious premise that information about someone’s past credit history can accurately predict whether they may commit a future act of aviation terrorism. Moreover, these programs assume that terrorists would book tickets and board flights using their own names or known aliases.

However, in 2003 alone, the Federal Trade Commission estimated that nearly 10 million people, or 4.6 percent of the adult population, were victims of some form of identity theft. With such a faulty foundation, the ACLU argued, the structure of both programs is bound to fail. This programmatic weakness leads to what security experts dub “False Negatives,” or an inability to detect actual terrorists.

Additionally, many innocent Americans have already been wrongly tagged on government maintained “no-fly” lists. Little information is available on how these lists are maintained, and the redress process is almost non-existent. If both Secure Flight and Registered Traveler are launched, there are also serious concerns that the government would be creating centralized databases that are filled with misinformation and potential targets for identity thieves.

Sparapani said that Congress must revoke TSA’s authority to proceed with both programs, and could instead empower the TSA to redirect those funds to buy new technologies that will effectively screen all luggage and cargo for weapons, including plastic explosives.

“Secure Flight and Registered Traveler pose unacceptable risks to security, civil liberties and privacy,” added Sparapani. “Congress must reject these programs, as it has done in the past. Aviation security must rely on proven methods, and not ineffective programs that threaten our most private information.”

To read the ACLU’s testimony on the passenger pre-screening programs, go to:

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