TSA to require passenger data and issue privacy rules

The government will require airlines to provide passenger data so it can test a new computerized screening system, for which it will issue proposed privacy rules, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Wednesday.

The order to provide data for the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System (CAPPS II) would come under a "security directive" within the next several months from TSA, said agency acting administrator Admiral David Stone in testimony before the House Transportation Aviation Subcommittee.

CAPPS II has been criticized on privacy grounds, and airlines are unwilling to provide passenger data to the TSA unless they are compelled or privacy protections are put in place.

Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and ranking member Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., harshly criticized the agency for neglecting privacy rules and for the slow pace in testing the system. CAPPS II would use names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth to conduct background checks on all travelers.

Mica said it was "unacceptable" that TSA was behind schedule because it could not obtain airline data. "I believe TSA has sufficient authority under the authorizing law we passed to require airlines to provide data, and should do so promptly."

"It is our intent to use the [regulation] along with a security directive," Stone replied. That should address both the airlines' concerns and those of privacy advocates, he said.

Mica also criticized the agency for failing to integrate terrorist "watch lists." Stone replied that a preliminary version would be offered by March 31, and that the integration would be complete by year's end.

Lawmakers also hammered the agency on failing to address privacy concerns. But Stone said in his testimony: "There is an inherent goodness to CAPPS II that I believe will shine through as we examine the program more closely."

"CAPPS II seems to be collapsing before it is even testing," said District of Columbia Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. "I can't imagine what it will take to get the public to accept the screening that CAPPS II is offering."

"The bottom line is assuring the American public that CAPPS II does not begin to look like Big Brother," said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

"I am a little bit troubled about the plan to implement" CAPPS II, said Rep. Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who chairs the House Administration Committee. He said he was concerned about its privacy implications and how it dealt with errors. "This has got to be thought out to the nth degree."

"It is my understanding ... that we gave significant authority to issue security directives with no notice of rulemaking and no public comment," said DeFazio. "Why wouldn't you just use that criteria with the airlines?"

Stone replied that issuing proposed rules were important "to instill trust and confidence and to provide notice to passengers that we will be taking data and testing it." In a brief interview, Stone said the agency had not decided whether it would first issue the "security directive" or the proposed notice of regulation.

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