12 March 2003
Byliner: U.S. Air Travel Screening Will Safeguard Privacy, Official
(Transportation Security chief James Loy article in USA Today) (520)
(This column by James M. Loy, who is administrator of the
Transportation Security Administration at the Department of Homeland
Security, was published in the USA Today March 12 and is in the public
domain. No republication restrictions.)
Privacy Will Be Protected
By James M. Loy
Security and privacy are the guiding principles behind the
Transportation Security Administration's latest effort to find foreign
terrorists before they board U.S. aircraft.
The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening Program, or CAPPS II,
will be a carefully limited system designed to safeguard the privacy
rights of Americans even as it roots out foreign terrorists or their
supporters who attempt to fly.
The new program will -- in less than five seconds -- confirm a
passenger's identity and score his or her potential terrorism-related
threat to aviation. Except in cases where terrorist connections are
found, the government never will see or hold data apart from the basic
identifying information provided by the passenger.
Uninformed critics have irresponsibly tried to scare travelers into
believing that a parking ticket or credit problem would keep someone
from flying. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, nobody
at the TSA believes that credit -- bad or good -- is an indication of
a potential terrorist threat.
As for travelers' privacy rights, consider these safeguards:
First, CAPPS II will not reach to crime computers or bank records. It
will survey databases available to every commercial entity in America,
information marketers use every day. And federal privacy laws already
limit the TSA's access to that information.
Second, the system won't store this data or allow it to be viewed. It
will be a passive system using information provided when a plane
ticket is purchased -- full name, home address, date of birth and
telephone number -- to quickly confirm identity and conduct a risk
assessment. Once the flight is over, the information will be
Few of the nearly 2 million passengers who travel each day will get
more scrutiny than they do right now. Everyone will be screened. Some
will get additional scrutiny. Only a handful of travelers are likely
to get a stop sign at the checkpoint and the attention of law
enforcement. Our goal is to make sure those few people who are stopped
truly deserve to be kept from flying.
Third, the system is being designed with input from everyone
concerned. All views, including those of privacy advocacy groups, will
be carefully considered as the TSA develops the protocols that define
the system as well as the privacy strategy.
Bottom line: CAPPS II will dramatically improve aviation security by
giving the TSA a better tool for keeping foreign terrorists off
airplanes. It also will dramatically improve customer service by
identifying the vast majority of the traveling public as precisely
what they are -- innocent travelers to be processed efficiently and
therefore protected when they fly.
We pledge to do that while protecting the privacy rights of every
(James M. Loy is administrator of the Transportation Security
Administration at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)