- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

A program to screen airline passengers using a “no fly” list of potential terrorists is facing opposition in Congress, where a House panel has blocked $35 million in funding until privacy and civil-liberty issues can be reviewed.

The profiling procedure — Enhanced Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System (CAPPS II) — would collect information on millions of passengers, including financial data that could be stored for 50 years.

An amendment to the Homeland Security Department’s $29.4 billion spending bill for next year requires the General Accounting Office to review the pilot program before any more federal funding is allocated. It was approved unanimously Tuesday by a voice vote.

The language adopted also directs the National Academy of Sciences to make recommendations minimizing the program’s effects on privacy and civil liberties.

Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, Minnesota Democrat, wrote the amendment and called the program being developed by the Transportation Security Administration “potentially the largest ever intrusion of the federal government into our personal lives.”

“The privacy and due-process concerns are immense. It deserves far more scrutiny than has been paid so far,” Mr. Sabo said.

Brian Turmail, TSA spokesman, said the agency “is committed to moving forward in development of the CAPPS II system in the most open and public way that is possible.”

“We welcome any and all reviews of how the system will retain the highest respects of the traveling public,” he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, also has targeted the CAPPS II program by inserting language into the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill and air cargo security bill that requires the homeland security secretary to report to Congress about the privacy concerns.

“He is pretty much attaching it to everything going through Dodge to get it through,” said Carol Guthrie, Mr. Wyden’s spokeswoman. “He wants to improve the chances of making it to the president’s desk in a timely fashion.”

Mr. Wyden also led the fight to end funding for the Pentagon’s Terrorism Information Awareness program, pending reviews of privacy infringements.

“Simply put, Mr. Wyden feels it’s possible to fight terrorism furiously without cannibalizing privacy and civil liberties,” Miss Guthrie said.

The CAPPS II system would analyze information from “risk-assessment reports; financial and transactional data; public-source information; proprietary data; and information from law enforcement and intelligence sources,” the Federal Register says.

As early as this week, the TSA is expected to publish a notice in the Federal Register explaining the scoring system used to determine airplane-boarding eligibility.

Mr. Turmail said the agency is “in the midst of a very aggressive communications and public dialogue with privacy and security advocates and experts as we develop CAPPS II, and we welcome any opportunity to explain how CAPPS II will maintain the highest standards of privacy and respect for the rights of the traveling public while providing [airline security].”

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