Agency Got More Airline Records
Privacy Advocates Fear Extensive Transfer of Passenger Data
By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2004; Page A16
Four more airlines and two travel reservation companies shared private information about their passengers with a federal government agency conducting a security screening project, the Transportation Security Administration acknowledged yesterday, raising alarms among privacy rights advocates that millions more traveler records may have been transferred than was previously known.
Delta, Continental, America West and Frontier airlines and travel reservation firms Galileo International and Sabre Holdings passed along records to the TSA or private companies working with the agency in 2002 and 2003, the TSA told a Senate panel yesterday.
Delta said yesterday it shared passenger records with the TSA and the Secret Service under an order from the TSA in February 2002 to assist with preparations for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where the airline has a hub.
Galileo International denied that it had shared data with the TSA. Continental and America West said they shared the records with the TSA. Sabre said it provided records to the TSA but did not authorize the agency to use them. Frontier said it allowed a vendor working with the TSA to use passenger reservation records over a two-week period.
In the past year, American Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp. acknowledged that they also handed over millions of passenger records as part of the same program. Northwest Airlines admitted that it shared records with NASA in a similar program.
The three airlines face federal class-action lawsuits on behalf of passengers who assert that their privacy was violated. The disclosures prompted the Department of Homeland Security to initiate privacy rights training for all its employees and to launch an internal probe into whether the TSA violated privacy laws.
Lawmakers pressed the TSA to provide a complete report on all of the airlines and the companies it worked with, which the agency agreed to submit. "I am not satisfied that TSA has a handle on this yet," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "Now we're up to six airlines and two reservation entities. That is pretty extensive in its scope. . . . The idea of the government amassing databases with personal information is cause for concern."
The TSA's acting director, David M. Stone, told the committee that the agency wanted to use passenger records from airlines and reservation companies in order to test an advanced computer screening program, called CAPPS II, that would identify and rate the security risk of every airline passenger. The program has been stalled because of privacy concerns and has not been tested.
The TSA said its officials viewed some passenger information in presentations, but they did not access a database that was kept by a travel records company, Airline Automation Inc., which maintains data for several major airlines and was assisting the agency with its project.
Agency officials believed at the time that the request for records did not violate federal privacy laws, Stone said. But he also indicated that the TSA might have been wrong in that assessment.
"I commit to you that I will use my leadership role to expeditiously take appropriate steps as warranted," Stone said in a written statement to the committee. He said he supported the agency's internal examination "for the lessons that can be learned."
Passenger records typically contain a person's name, address, phone number, e-mail address, credit card number and other personal details. It was not clear yesterday how many records were transferred to the TSA, but privacy advocates said it could easily reach into the millions, based on the number of records other airlines admitted to having shared with the agency.
"It is utter outrage," said Bill Scannell, a privacy rights advocate who started a Web site encouraging passengers to boycott Delta Air Lines after the airline volunteered in 2002 to help TSA develop the CAPPS II system. The carrier backed out after a public outcry. "I would like to see a full-blown investigation by Congress. For a year and a half we have been begging and screaming to find out the truth," Scannell said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Sen. Susan Collins:
Video: Washington Post reporter Sara Goo reports that four more airlines and two travel reservation companies shared private information about their passengers with a federal government agency conducting a security screening project.
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TSA Helped JetBlue Share Data, Report Says (The Washington Post, Feb 21, 2004)
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Clark, the Four-Star Businessman (The Washington Post, Jan 29, 2004)
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Northwest Airlines Faces Privacy Suits (The Washington Post, Jan 22, 2004)
Northwest Gave U.S. Data on Passengers (The Washington Post, Jan 18, 2004)
U.S. to Push Airlines for Passenger Records (The Washington Post, Jan 12, 2004)
TSA May Try to Force Airlines to Share Data (The Washington Post, Sep 27, 2003)
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JetBlue Apologizes for Use of Passenger Records (The Washington Post, Sep 20, 2003)