Is CAPPS 2 Really Dead? ACLU Asks Homeland Security Chief Whether Controversial Passenger Profiling Still Has a Pulse

July 20, 2004 12:00 am

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Questions Also Remain Over Fate of Millions of Airline Passenger Profiles Still in Government Hands


NEW YORK-In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the American Civil Liberties Union today asked for clarification on the status of the controversial CAPPS II airline passenger profiling system in the wake of contradictory statements from DHS officials about the program’s demise. The ACLU also asked about the fate of personal information collected from American citizens and others for the testing of the system.

“Secretary Ridge is head of DHS, and when he says that CAPPS II is going to be terminated we take him at his word,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, and a signer of the letter. “But that termination will not be complete until the government purges the millions of records it has already collected.” The letter was also signed by Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, and ACLU Legislative Counsel LaShawn Warren.

Secretary Ridge last Wednesday indicated to a reporter that CAPPS II was completely dead, while other DHS officials said that the airline profiling plan would merely be “reshaped and repackaged,” creating confusion about the program’s fate.

In its letter, the ACLU pointed out that David Stone, Acting Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, told the Senate Government Affairs Committee that the TSA has collected passenger information from Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, America West Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and the Galileo and Sabre reservation systems, and that previously it had been disclosed that personal data regarding passengers had been obtained by the Federal Government from Northwest and Jet Blue Airlines.

“We remain deeply concerned about the fate of the large amounts of personal information about American citizens and others that DHS has already collected,” the ACLU letter said. “The maintenance by the government of files on the innocent travel and associational activities of American citizens and others, collected without their knowledge or consent, raises numerous serious privacy issues – especially when those files are maintained for law enforcement purposes.”

In addition to requesting clarification of the program’s status, the ACLU asked whether personal information collected for CAPPS II would be retained (and if so, for what purpose and in what form); whether any other any other Passenger Name Record (PNR) files had been collected (and if so what use was made of it, and whether it will be maintained); and what data TSA intends to collect from future passengers, and what it proposes to do with it.

“Our hope is that wiser heads at DHS prevail and that the government recognizes that it should not try to prevent terrorism by poking into people’s lives on a mass scale,” said Murphy of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “Once we go down the road to such intrusive surveillance programs, there will be no end to it. Secretary Ridge can signal that recognition today by pledging to destroy all of these records that his department has collected.”

The ACLU letter to Secretary Ridge is online at /node/22561

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