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Homeland Security

26 August 2004

New Air Passenger Prescreening System Announced by U.S.

Agency says it will take over responsibility from airlines

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will begin testing a new passenger prescreening system after it shelved the previous version over privacy concerns.

Under the new program, called Secure Flight, TSA will take over from airlines responsibility for checking airline passengers' names against "greatly expanded" terrorist watch lists.

The change was recommended by the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 commission.

The predecessor to Secure Flight -- the computer-assisted passenger prescreening system (CAPPS II) -- was designed to protect the commercial aviation system from terrorist threats by identifying higher-risk passengers for additional security procedures.

CPPS II was criticized by Congress and civil liberties groups for inadequate privacy protection, particularly for using commercial data. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the congressional investigative agency, said in its February report that the development and implementation of CAPPS II was impeded by the system's inability to recognize identity theft and uncertainty over the possible expansion of the program's original mission to target violent criminals and fugitives in addition to terrorists. The development of the system was delayed mostly because airlines concerned about privacy issues were reluctant to provide passenger data for testing purposes.

The TSA said that the new program to be tested in a month or two differs from CAPPS II by focusing on identifying terrorists rather than serving other law enforcement purposes.

The agency in the Department of Homeland Security said it will conduct a "very limited" test to determine whether comparing passenger information to commercially available data can help to verify the identify of individuals more accurately.

Following is the text of the news release:

(begin text)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Transportation Security Administration

August 26, 2004


"Secure Flight" to be Tested Before Year's End

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today announced it will move forward to test a new passenger-prescreening program called Secure Flight. The decision follows completion of a thorough review of the computer-assisted passenger prescreening system (CAPPS II) proposal ordered by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Tom Ridge in July. Based on the results of this review, TSA modified its earlier passenger prescreening proposal to create the new Secure Flight program.

Under Secure Flight, TSA will take over responsibility for checking airline passengers' names against terrorist watch lists -- a function currently administered by each airline individually. The move will help eliminate most of the false alerts caused by the current out-dated system. When in place, Secure Flight will help move passengers through airport screening more quickly and reduce the number of individuals selected for secondary screening -- while fully protecting passengers' privacy and civil liberties.

"This new system will allow Homeland Security to implement a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission -- for the government to continue improving the use of 'no-fly' and 'automatic selectee' lists by using an expanded watch list," DHS Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson said. "Secure Flight is a critical part of Homeland Security's overall layered strategy to secure the nation's commercial air transportation system."

"TSA is prepared to begin testing and execution of the next-generation passenger prescreening program," said Rear Admiral David M. Stone USN (Ret.), Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Transportation Security Administration. "Secure Flight will enhance security for the nation's travelers while preserving the individual freedoms of each passenger."

Significant progress has already been made by the U.S. Government by providing greatly expanded No-Fly and Selectee lists to airlines to conduct checks on their own computer systems. New names are being added every day as intelligence and law enforcement agencies submit persons for consideration. Under Secure Flight, TSA will take over responsibility for comparing Passenger Name Record (PNR) information of domestic air passengers to a greatly expanded list of known or suspected terrorists in the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) database. As the program is phased in, TSA will be able to check passenger records against watch list information not previously available to airlines.

Passengers on international flights will continue to be checked against names in the consolidated TSC database by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), through its Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS). These checks are mandated by U.S. law.

Secure Flight differs from earlier proposed systems by focusing screening efforts on looking for known or suspected terrorists, rather than using it for other law enforcement purposes. In addition, the new program will also include a redress mechanism through which people can resolve questions if they believe they have been unfairly or incorrectly selected for additional screening.

Separately, TSA will also conduct a very limited test to determine whether or not comparing passenger information to commercially available data can help to more accurately verify the identity of individuals.

Results of the testing, both of the TSC database comparisons and the use of commercial data to verify identity, will be as publicly transparent as possible without compromising national security. Testing and eventual implementation will be governed by strict privacy protections including passenger redress procedures, data security mechanisms, and limitations on use.

TSA will collect passenger data and begin testing Secure Flight within the next 30-60 days. TSA will likely move forward with implementation of the system nationally after testing is completed and the agency publishes a final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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