TSA: Tests going well for Secure Flight

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Fri Jan 7 19:27:44 PST 2005



TSA: Tests going well for Secure Flight

Friday, January 7, 2005 Posted: 11:21 AM EST (1621 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government has begun testing a computerized
screening system that compares airline passengers' names with those on
terrorist watch lists, a Transportation Security Administration official
said Thursday.

Called "Secure Flight," it's meant to replace a plan that never got to the
testing stage because of criticism that it gave the government access to
too much personal information.

Testing of Secure Flight began November 30. No announcement was made; TSA
spokesman Justin Oberman disclosed its status when asked by The Associated

The testing has not turned up any suspected terrorists. Oberman said the
agency expects to wrap up the first phase of testing in a month.

"The technology is working, doing exactly what we wanted it to do," he said.

The TSA is testing data on passengers who flew domestic flights on U.S.
airlines in June. The airlines, concerned about upsetting passengers, had
refused to turn over the information, but the TSA issued a security
directive ordering them to do so.

About 1.9 million passengers travel by air daily, and part of the test will
see if the government's system can handle that much information.

The government has sought to improve its process for making sure terrorists
don't get on planes since the September 11 hijackers exposed holes in the
system. Airlines now simply match passenger names against government watch
lists of people considered threats.

Federal authorities don't disclose criteria for placing people on the
lists, how many names are listed or any identities. In a number of
well-publicized incidents, people with names similar to those on the lists
were stopped from boarding planes. Among them was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,

Marcia Hofmann, attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a
Washington-based advocacy group, said many problems remain with the Secure
Flight program.

"The redress process is still a question mark," Hofmann said. "The ability
of individuals to access and correct information that is being used to make
determinations about them is still at issue."

Oberman said the agency is working on a way for passengers to appeal if
they think they've been wrongly identified as terrorists.

Under Secure Flight, the airlines would electronically transmit to the
government passenger names as well as other identifying information. The
government would then match that information with the terrorist watch
lists; names on those lists are supposed to include biographical

The passenger information that's being tested is known as passenger name
records, or PNR. It can include credit card numbers, travel itineraries,
addresses, telephone numbers and meal requests.

Oberman said further testing will show whether the system can handle a
surge of information during busy air travel periods. Name-matching software
will also be fine-tuned, he said.

The TSA says Secure Flight differs from the previous plan because it does
not compare personal data with commercial databases. Privacy advocates were
concerned that doing so would allow the government to accumulate vast
amounts of sensitive information about people who weren't suspected of
breaking the law.

The agency said, however, it will test the passenger information "on a very
limited basis" against commercial data to see if that could reduce the
number of people who are confused with names on watch lists.

Before that happens, though, the Government Accountability Office must
report to Congress on the TSA's plan to test the commercial data. That's
expected by the end of March.

Oberman said he expects testing will be completed by then. However, it's
unclear when Secure Flight will be implemented.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list