Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Bush boosts CAPPS-II budget in face of growing opposition

The Bush Administration has reportedly proposed to increase funding for the CAPPS-II airline passenger profiling and and surveillance system from US$45 million (previously reported as US$35 million, so this may be in error) in fiscal year 2004 to US$60 million in 2005.

The proposed budget is still only a tiny fraction of the likely billion-dollar cost of CAPPS-II, suggesting that either:

  1. The Administration still has no idea what CAPPS-II would really cost;
  2. The Administration is deliberately understating CAPPS-II costs in the budget;
  3. The real costs of CAPPS-II are being hidden in other line items or the budgets of other departments or agencies; and/or
  4. The Administration intends to force the travel industry (and, through higher airfares, the travelling public) to absorb most of the cost of CAPPS-II.

If I had to bet, I'd put my money on, "All of the above."

The budget proposal comes less than two weeks before the due date for a General Accounting Office audit and report on CAPPS-II ordered by Congress last year (see Section 519 of the law), after which no further funds can be spent on CAPPS-II unless the GAO finds that CAPPS-II satisfies the Congressionally specified criteria. Since such a finding by the GAO appears highly unlikely, the new budget proposal seems like wishful thinking on the part of the Administration.

On the other hand, the President said that, "the executive branch shall construe such section [conditioning CAPPS-II expenditures on GAO findings] as advisory", even as he signed the act, including that section, into law. So he may intend simply to ignore Congress' directive, although that would certainly lessen the chances for Congressional approval of any future funding.

The budget proposal also comes in the midst of growing opposition to CAPPS-II and other government traveller-surveillance schemes from business travellers , privacy advocates, and government privacy-protection authorities in the USA and abroad.

Either agreement from the European Union and Canada, or the cessation of flights between the USA and those countries, is a prerequisite for any testing, much less deployment, of CAPPS-II. The proposed agreement with the EU for CAPPS-II testing has come under intense attack, which continued today, as soon as the draft became public yesterday.

Following on the wide range of criticism and complaint of the government's plans released yesterday, Statewatch today reposted my analysis of the draft Undertakings of the USA Department of Homeland Security with respect to airline reservation data transferred to the USA from the European Union, as well as an additional statement from the ACLU making points very similar to mine:

European passenger data that is shared with the United States will receive little or no protection. Individuals targeted for scrutiny by U.S. officials will have no recourse as their most personal medical and financial is examined and processed in ways they never imagined and never contemplated when they purchased an airline ticket. We urge the European Commission on Privacy to state that United States laws are not adequate to safeguard the privacy rights of European citizens and block the implementation of this proposed privacy sharing agreement.

Two months ago, I wrote :

If the USA-EU negotiations fall through, blame will belong squarely on the DHS Chief Privacy Officer, Ms. Nuala O'Connor Kelly, for failing to propose federal travel privacy legislation that would satisfy international (including EU) standards of adequacy....

When I asked Ms. O'Connor Kelly why she didn't propose travel data privacy legislation as the solution to the dispute with the EU, she told me, "That isn't the only thing they [the European Commission] asked for". That's true -- the EC has also, quite properly, asked that the DHS demand for access to data in PNR's data be limited to information relevant to determining security risks -- but the EC negotiators have made clear that they have considerably more flexibility in negotiating which data is passed to the USA than in approving any "deal" that failed to include any legal privacy guarantees for that data once it's in the USA.

The sole legal barrier to CAPPS-II testing today (not,of course, that the DHS and its predecessors have concerned themselves with legal niceties in past CAPPS-II tests) is the need for EU, Canadian, and other international approvals, for which the key issue is the absence of any adequate privacy law protecting travel data in the USA.

Those such as Ms. O'Connor Kelly who claim so vociferously to believe that CAPPS-II need not conflict with privacy protection, and would even "help us preserve privacy", as her boss Tom Ridge said Sunday, should be the first people to endorse strong Federal legislation to apply international standards of privacy protection to travel data -- as the essential precondition to the international agreements that would be necessary for CAPPS-II.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 3 February 2004, 18:49 ( 6:49 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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