Friday, 20 February 2004

Congressional hearing on CAPPS-II set for 11 March 2004

The Subcommittee on Aviation of the USA House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has scheduled a public subcommittee hearing on Thursday, 11 March 2003, on the proposed Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, version 2 (CAPPS-II).

The Aviation Subcommittee Charperson, Rep. John Mica (republican of Florida) has been strongly critical of the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, but has to date stopped short of endorsing other House members’ calls for suspension or termination of the CAPPS-II program.

Congress is in recess this week, and the list of witnesses who will testify at the CAPPS-II hearing has not yet been announced. The agenda for the hearing does not appear to include the privacy policies or practices of the travel industry, or any legislation to protect the privacy of travel records, so it’s important to keep the pressure on Congress to address those larger issues.

This will be the first public inquiry into the billion-dollar plus scheme (the largest domestic intelligence program in USA history) to:

  • profile all air travellers (and eventually all travellers by surface common carriers);
  • conscript airlines and travel agents into collecting additional personal information to enable the indexing of reservations into lifetime travel dossiers (held by private reservation services, but accessible to the government at any time, and including information on travel industry workers, travel planners, and many other people besides travellers);
  • require for the first time in USA history a de facto domestic passport for the exercise of the right of the people peacably to assemble, protected under the First Amendment; and
  • begin the process of integrating airline reservation systems and government databases and networks, creating a new global surveillance insfrastructure for monitoring and recording the movements of people

While the DHS and its predecessor, the Department of Transportation, twice last year requested public comments on portions of the CAPPS-II scheme, many of the comments they received — the largest volume of comments of any Privacy Act notice ever, almost all of them strongly critical — are still being withheld from public release.

The DHS’s purported “Analysis of Comments” failed even to ackowledge that any comments had been received concerning most of the main criticisms actually raised during the public comment periods: whether CAPPS-II would be Constitutional, whether it was authorized by law, whether it would include information on other people besides travellers, how much it would cost, its impact on the travel reservations industry, and so forth.

Written questions from several members of Congress concerning CAPPS-II and other government use of airline reservations for passenger profiling have gone unanswered by the TSA, DHS, and other agencies.

And more questions were raised by the report of Congress’s General Accounting Office on the TSA’s (lack of) success in meeting the prerequisites set by Congress for any further CAPPS-II funding.

One day of hearings can’t begin to answer all these questions, but it’s a welcome, and long overdue, start on bringing them into the limelight. I hope to be there, and will keep you posted.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 20 February 2004, 11:28 (11:28 AM)
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