Friday, 13 February 2004

40 members of Congress call for CAPPS-II delay or suspension

In two different letters sent this week, a total of 40 members of the USA House of Representatives have asked that the CAPPS-II airline passenger surveillance and profiling system not be implemented unless and until their, and their constituents’, privacy and civil liberties concerns are addressed.

The first letter was sent Wednesday to President Bush, signed by 24 members led by Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and said in part:

Many of our constituents have contacted our Congressional offices concerned that their privacy rights have been violated by airlines turning over personal consumer information to the federal government without their knowledge or consent….

Before the Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening Program (CAPPS II) is implemented, we urge the adoption of a specific policy that makes clear the role of airlines in sharing consumer information with the federal government. Such a policy should articulate what information can be shared by airlines and how such information is to be shared. First, we would anticipate a clear explanation as to the boundaries of any information-sharing between airlines and the federal government. Second, consumers must be clearly informed at the time they purchase their airline tickets as to how their personal information will be used.

Currently there are no such policies at all, so by urging that they be adopted before CAPPS-II is implemented, the letter implictly calls for an indefinite postponement of CAPPS-II implementation.

The CAPPS-II Privacy Act Notice includes some limited restrictions on TSA contractors and providers of commercial data other than reservation data . But DHS Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O’Connor Kelly told me specifically that airlines, travel agencies, computerized reservation systems, and other providers of information in reservations will not be considered “contractors” or “commercial data sources” and will not be subject to those restrictions. In fact, they would be subject to no legal restrictions whatsoever, under either current USA law or the CAPPS-II proposals, on their use or sharing, commercially and/or with any government agency, of any data in travel reservations.

Since travellers can purchase tickets up to a year prior to their intended travel date, requiring notice at the time of ticket purchase would imply waiting at least a full year after implementing such a notice requirment before all passengers showing up for flights could be counted on to have received notice when they bought their tickets that their reservation data might be provided to the government.

The second, much stronger, Congressional letter was initiated by Republican Rep. Ron Paul, and sent today to Rear Admiral (Retired) David M. Stone, Acting Administrator of the TSA. It was signed by 6 of the signatories of the earlier letter, and 16 additional members of Congress (making a total of 40 signers of one or both of the letters):

In today’s letter, the 22 Representatives say:

We write to you out of concern regarding recent reports that, despite broad opposition from across the political and business spectrum, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will push forward with plans to implement the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II (CAPPS II), a vast computerized network to probe the backgrounds of the 100 million Americans who fly each year in order to determine their “risk” to airline safety….

… We have serious concerns about the effectiveness and powerful dangers this system will pose to the civil rights and liberties of millions of Americans….

Members of Congress and the public also have reason to fear that CAPPS II will eventually be expanded to the further detriment of civil liberties. Former TSA Director Loy explicitly indicated that the agency envisions utilizing CAPPS II at other transportation hubs. If the system is indeed broadened for use in venues such as bus stations, highway toll-booths, or public events, the current proposal for CAPPS II appears to set the initial ground-work for the eventual implementation of a system of internal government checkpoints reminiscent of totalitarian regimes….

… One wonders if once implemented, the program will continue to morph into something similar to the Pentagon’s “Total Information Awareness” concept, an over-arching system to monitor all available data sources in search of suspicious patterns of activity. The Congress soundly rejected this proposal.

New powers granted to government anti-terror initiatives must require that the power is necessary to thwart future attacks, and that the benefit of the new power outweighs its adverse effect on liberty. In its current form, CAPPS II fails both of these requirements. We ask that the program be suspended indefinitely until these serious concerns are addressed.

We await your prompt response to these issues.

With any further government spending on CAPPS-II prohibited by Congress (except for testing) as a result of yesteday’s GAO report that seven out of eight Congressional criteria have not been met by the TSA, the ball is in the TSA’s court to jusify any continuation of the testing, or to come back to Congress to seek permission and funding to proceed. And the responsibility is on Congress, if the TSA continues to ignore their concerns, to cut off funds for CAPPS-II testing, end the program entirely, and enact meaningful privacy protections against both commercial and government misuse of personal information in travel reservations.

[Addendum, 13 February 2004: Full text of today’s letter, as released by signatory and Presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 13 February 2004, 11:20 (11:20 AM)
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