New Airline Screening System Postponed
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge indicated that CAPPS II had been canceled in an interview published yesterday in USA Today. But some elements of the program are already being used to check foreign airline crews, some employees working at airports and some travelers who have volunteered in another security screening program, sources said. Officials also said they would continue with plans to test the computer network later this summer using passenger information.
Privacy advocates welcomed the announcement that the program would be smaller, and some took credit for forcing the government to reconsider it.
"It was always a very questionable concept from a security" standpoint, said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy rights advocacy group in Washington. "The effectiveness was never demonstrated, and we always thought it was likely to provide a false sense of security and divert resources."
But others involved in the issue said the program's delay continues to leave a vulnerable hole in the nation's aviation system.
"Aviation security is certainly far too important to play politics with it," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "The American people have a right to know how the obvious need for air security will be addressed. I believe it can be done and still protect privacy."
CAPPS II was supposed to begin screening passengers this fall, but it faced opposition at nearly every step. U.S. and European airlines initially resisted participating out of concerns that it would require them to become part of national law enforcement to track wanted criminals, not just terrorists. Privacy advocacy groups also claimed the government wasn't providing enough information about how the system would work.
In February, the General Accounting Office concluded that the Transportation Security Administration had many steps to go before it could even begin testing the system.
The program was also hurt by news reports that revealed several agencies, including the TSA, had already received millions of reservation records from airlines to test early versions of the program without telling the public. The airlines admitted they had not informed their passengers about turning over the records, which included credit card information and personal telephone numbers and addresses.
Several airlines now face class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of passengers who said the carriers violated their own privacy policies.
Some American Airlines frequent travelers will be allowed to participate next month in the TSA's registered traveler program at Reagan National Airport. The program has signed up 2,000 passengers at airports in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company