ACLU Says Pending Test of Secure Flight Would Violate Law, Congress Required GAO Report Before Allowing Private Data To Be Used

November 19, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Days before the nation’s busiest travel season starts, the American Civil Liberties Union today asked the Department of Homeland Security to clarify its plans to begin testing the “Secure Flight” airline passenger screening program. Government officials had indicated that testing of the controversial program will begin shortly even though a congressionally mandated pre-launch review of the program has yet to be completed.

“Even as tens of millions of travelers take to the skies next week, the government appears to be rushing headlong to test this intrusive new screening program,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program. “Part of this screening program will rely on third-party commercial databases, and Congress wisely said there must be a thorough evaluation of the use of such databases before this test goes forward.”

The Secure Flight airline passenger screening program was developed as the successor to the now-defunct Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II). CAPPS II met opposition from across the political spectrum as being overly intrusive and too reliant on commercial databases, with no assurances that it would be effective. The ACLU has noted that many of the concerns with CAPPS II still remain with the Secure Flight program, including its reliance on commercial databases notoriously riddled with mistakes.

In a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Friday, the ACLU noted that the DHS Appropriations Act of 2005 states that no funds can be used for an “identity verification system” that uses private databases until “TSA has developed measures to determine the impact of such verification on aviation security and the Government Accountability Office has reported on its evaluation of the measures.”

While TSA and DHS officials have been publicly noting the imminent launch of Secure Flight testing, there has been no mention by either TSA or DHS officials of the GAO report. The ACLU’s letter asked that Secretary Ridge “confirm that the TSA intends to wait until GAO has issued the report… before commencing with the testing of the commercial identity verification portion of Secure Flight.”

The ACLU had previously filed comments with the TSA and DHS regarding the privacy concerns with the implementation of Secure Flight. The ACLU is also pursuing a lawsuit against the government over its “no-fly” list, which has targeted many innocent travelers.

“Many of the same civil liberties concerns identified in CAPPS II are present in Secure Flight,” added Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We are concerned that DHS may be implementing a controversial program without answering very legitimate questions from the public — and Congress — about the effectiveness and intrusive nature of Secure Flight.”

To read the ACLU’s letter, go to:

To read the ACLU’s formal comments on Secure Flight, go to:

To read about the ACLU’s lawsuit on the No-Fly list, go to:

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