Transportation Security Administration agents examine a traveler’s luggage. (Andrew Burton/Reuters) (Andrew Burton/Reuters)

This post has been updated.

As you wrap your head around the idea that the NSA may be scooping up information about your phone calls and contact lists, here’s something else to contemplate: The  Transportation Security Administration is now using a wide variety of government and private databases to screen passengers before they even arrive at the airport, according to this story in today’s New York Times.

According to the Times’ story, the TSA says the purpose of the pre-screening is to speed up the process for travelers who pose no risk, but privacy advocates have expressed concern about the program, which goes beyond the Secure Flight screening system that has been in place for years.

The expanded screening also differs from the program announced last month that is expected to allow more than a quarter of U.S. fliers speedier passage through airport checkpoints — shoes and coats on, laptop computers untouched — by year’s end.

The TSA on Wednesday disputed the Times story, saying it contained “inaccurate information.” Among other things, the agency said it is not using any new data to screen passengers. Following is an excerpt from the TSA blog:

Prescreening of passengers is nothing new, and we are not using any new data to determine low risk passengers. Unfortunately some have confused these programs, so we wanted to take this opportunity to make clear what we are not doing:

  • We are not expanding the type of information we use – again we rely on the same security information passengers have been required to submit at time of booking for many years.
  • We are not using car registrations or employment information.
  • We are not using “private databases” – the info we rely on is the same info that passengers have provided for years when they book their flight.
  • TSA does not monitor a passenger’s length of stay in any location.”

The complete blog post can be found here.