- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Flight information from all airline passengers, including financial data, can be collected and analyzed under a little-seen regulation proposed by the Transportation Security Administration to track potential terrorists.
The federal government wants to keep information for 50 years on passengers it believes pose threats to national security, while information on other passengers would be stored in a database for the duration of their travel and eliminated after their return trips.
Privacy advocates criticize the TSA proposal as a national database open to abuse, similar to concerns about the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project, which Congress has put on indefinite hold.
"This is something that ought to be particularly worrisome to the public" said former Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican. "The public focus has been on TIA, while the TSA has been quietly putting together a program that is as potentially just as intrusive."
Mr. Barr, now director of the 21st Chair for Privacy and Freedom at the American Conservative Union, says the proposed changes are outlawed by the very Privacy Act that the department wants to amend.
Chet Lunner, Transportation Department spokesman, said the system will "be deployed much more narrower than the language will lead people to believe at the outset."
The proposal to amend the Privacy Act of 1974 says passengers covered in the system would include those "traveling to, from, or within the U.S. by passenger air transportation; individuals who are deemed to pose a possible risk to transportation or national security, a possible risk of air piracy or terrorism, or a potential threat to airline or passenger safety aviation, civil aviation, or national security."
The information would include "passenger name records and associated data, reservation and manifest information of passenger carriers and, in the case of individuals who are deemed to pose a possible risk to transportation security, record categories may include: risk assessment reports; financial and transactional data; public source information; proprietary data; and information from law enforcement and intelligence sources," the proposal said.
Mr. Lunner calls the proposal "boilerplate language" required to amend the Privacy Act. The "initial proposal," he said, is misleading because the "program will be of much narrower scope than the language might lead people to believe."
"That language is supposed to represent the widest possible use of a system," Mr. Lunner said.
Mr. Barr called the department's defense "nonsense."
"Federal agencies propose widespread regulations because they want widespread regulations. If they want narrowly focused regulations, they are required to submit for public comment a narrowly tailored regulation," Mr. Barr said.
The proposal was printed in the Jan. 15 Federal Register, and the comment period expired Monday. If no comments were received, the listing said, the rules would become effective immediately.
Mr. Lunner said many comments were received and "we will take the comments under consideration and we will republish."
Adm. James M. Loy, TSA undersecretary, will discuss this and other agency initiatives during a press conference today.
The regulations were brought to light yesterday by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which used the Freedom of Information Act to request more information on the TSA proposal but received no response.
Chris Hoofnagle, deputy counsel for the information center, said the TSA could provide no information on how a passenger would be determined a "possible risk to transportation or national security."
The proposal sets forth a procedure for travelers to obtain information gathered in the database, but does not say how anyone would learn whether they have been categorized as a threat to security.
Those wishing to contest the database information must "clearly and concisely state what information is being contested, the reason for contesting it, and the proposed amendment to the record."
"The request must also contain the requester's full name, current address, and date and place of birth."
The information collected in the system would be safeguarded with limited access and an auditing of all who retrieve the information, the proposal said.
However, nearly a dozen sections of the regulation detail who has "routine use" of the information, including any federal, state, territorial, tribal, local, international or foreign agency with law-enforcement duties or any of a slew of other purposes.

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