- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

A new computer screening system designed to identify potential terrorists among airline passengers has failed a series of tests lawmakers established as a condition for funding, a congressional report to be released tomorrow says.

“Key activities in the development of have been delayed and the Transportation Security Administration has not yet completed important system planning activities,” says a draft summary of the report prepared by Congress’ investigative arm, the General Accounting Office.

The summary says that as of Jan. 1 the TSA also had not finalized exactly how the system would work, or identified a timetable or budget for its implementation. The critical report may prevent funds for the system, known by the acronym CAPPS II, for Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System phase two, from being released by Congress.

CAPPS II would divide passengers into three categories: green, screened normally at the gate; yellow, given extra screening; and red. TSA officials say passengers given a red rating would be forbidden to fly and be questioned at the airport by law enforcement officials.

“I’m disappointed,” said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, chairman of the House aviation subcommittee and an advocate of screening. “We may have to send them back to the drawing board.”

CAPPS II is supposed to compare personal data about passengers collected by airlines name, address, date of birth and telephone number with commercial databases held by marketing companies and others.

Critics contend that the system would violate travelers’ privacy and brand some citizens terror suspects on the basis of potentially inaccurate data they cannot challenge. They also contend the system would be expanded for use against all kinds of law-breakers and suspects not just terrorists.

Concerned lawmakers stipulated eight tests enacted into law in several funding bills that the system had to pass before money could be released to fund its implementation.

The tests included establishing a process for correcting erroneous information and restoring the right of wrongly accused passengers to travel by air; assuring the security of the system from hackers and internal abuse; addressing privacy concerns; and crucially providing evidence that the screening will actually turn up potential terrorists.

“I’m even more worried now about the implementation of this system than I was before,” said former Georgia GOP congressman Bob Barr, a long-standing critic of the proposal. “This should be the death knell for this idea, but I think it will take a great deal of courage and perseverance by Congress to kill this off.

“I hope they take a long, hard look at this report.”

The TSA referred calls about the draft report to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not return a call for comment yesterday.

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