ACLU Calls New "Secure Flight" Passenger Profiling System Invasive, Inadequate and Ineffective

October 26, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU Calls New “Secure Flight” Passenger Profiling System Invasive, Inadequate and Ineffective


WASHINGTON – In comments filed with the Department of Homeland Security late yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union has offered deep criticism of the “Secure Flight” airline passenger screening program. The ACLU said that many of the privacy and civil liberties concerns identified in the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) remain with its successor, Secure Flight. The program is slated to be tested in November and December.

“We are concerned that the government is moving ahead with building this system before ironing out the fundamental problems with the old watch list systems on which it would be based,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program. “At best, ‘Secure Flight’ is a misnomer – it still does not protect innocent travelers’ safety or privacy.”

The Business Travel Coalition joined the ACLU in criticizing the plans; “The same major problems that plagued CAPPS II remain with the ‘Secure Flight’ program, yet DHS plans to begin testing it on passengers next month,” said Kevin Mitchell, Chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. “It makes no sense whatsoever to subject travelers to a system that is already a proven failure, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas – the busiest travel season of the year.”

CAPPS II was widely criticized and eventually terminated for a number of reasons, including: the ease with which the system could be beat with fake identification, the system’s reliance on commercial databases widely acknowledged to be riddled with errors and the fact that the system compromised the privacy of airline travelers without making nation’s airliners safer. All of these problems, the ACLU noted, remain in Secure Flight. The ACLU’s comments included a chart comparing the major features and flaws of Secure Flight with CAPPS II.

The comments were submitted jointly by the ACLU and Privacy International, an England-based watchdog organization. Privacy International’s opposition echoes a fundamental problem that Congress’s investigative arm, the GAO, pointed out with CAPS II: international cooperation, which has been limited due to the strong privacy laws that all other advanced-industrial nations have, is essential in order for it to be effective.

. “Secure Flight will erode our privacy and is probably not the best use of our limited resources,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “We shouldn’t rely on feel-good quick fixes in our counter terrorism efforts. The stakes are too high both for our security and our civil liberties.”

The comments highlighted the numerous pitfalls associated with the implementation of ‘watch lists’ for terrorists, but did not object the concept of checking watch lists for genuine terrorist threats. Recent highly publicized incidents and mistakes, such as Representative Don Young’s (R-AK) being flagged by a list and prevented from flying, clearly illustrate the need for the use of the lists to be dramatically improved before they can be fair and effective.

To read the ACLU’s comments, go to:

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