TSA restricts database queries via screening system

Responding to public objections to its plan for commercial database searches to identify air passengers who are terrorist suspects or violent fugitives, the Transportation Security Administration today issued a regulation limiting its use of the data.

TSA issued an interim final rule on the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II for public inspection today and said it would be published in the Federal Register tomorrow.

The new rule limits the type of information CAPPS II will gather from commercial databases, restricts the period for which the system will hold the data, and states that commercial database owners will not be able to use the information for any other purpose than passenger screening. The rules prohibit CAPPS II from using bank, credit or medical records.

TSA also plans to establish a Passenger Advocate Office under the interim final rule to identify the source of false data in the system and correct it.

TSA said it would not activate CAPPS II until it had completed developing the system and reviewed its speed, accuracy and efficiency, a process that could take as long as six months. The agency provided a comment period on its latest rule of 60 days, twice as long as usual, to allow the public more opportunity to submit views.

'The Department of Homeland Security leadership, in concert with Transportation Security Administration officials, has taken today a very positive step toward further refining the CAPPS II system,' DHS' chief privacy officer, Nuala O'Connor Kelly, said in a statement. She said the new rule would increase passenger security and respect the privacy of travelers.

TSA administrator Adm. James M. Loy said CAPPS II would reduce passenger wait times and the number of travelers who go through secondary screening. The system also is intended to decrease the number of travelers who are misidentified as potential terrorists.

Public outcry against the use of commercial databases as a part of CAPPS II led to charges that it would retain some passenger information for up to 50 years and otherwise misuse information in commercial databases. The negative response to TSA's Jan. 15 Federal Register notice setting out proposed rules for CAPPS II prompted the Senate to approve a plan for TSA to provide an appeals procedure for travelers barred from flying.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, raised concerns about the CAPPS II system in a DHS confirmation hearing earlier this year. (Click for GCN coverage)

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