FEDS TO COLOR CODE AIRLINE PASSENGERS
WASHINGTON (Feb. 28) - Defense contractor Lockheed-Martin
will develop a new system to check background information and assign a threat level to all commercial air passengers, the
Transportation Department announced on Friday.
The company, which employed Transportation Secretary
Norman Mineta in the mid-1990s, was awarded a five-year contract to administer the program. The first phase of the contract
is worth $12.8 million, transportation officials said.
Civil liberties watchdogs see the potential for
unconstitutional invasions of privacy and for database mix-ups that could lead to innocent people being branded security risks.
''This system threatens to create a permanent
blacklisted underclass of Americans who cannot travel freely,'' said Katie Corrigan, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties
Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Department
of Homeland Security, said a privacy officer will be assigned to safeguard civil liberties.
''Before any new homeland security technologies
are deployed, we will ensure that we will uphold the laws of the land,'' Roehrkasse said. ''Any new data-mining technologies
or programs to enhance information sharing and collecting must and will respect the civil rights and civil liberties guaranteed
to the American people.''
The system, ordered by Congress after the attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001, will gather much more information on passengers than previously. Delta Air Lines will try it out at three
undisclosed airports beginning in about a month, and a comprehensive system could be in place by the end of the year.
The nationwide computer system, which will check
such things as credit reports and bank account activity and compare passenger names with those on government watch lists.
Under the system, airlines will ask fliers more information than they do now: full name, address, phone number and date of
Advocates say the system will weed out dangerous
people while ensuring law-abiding citizens aren't given unnecessary scrutiny.
Transportation officials say CAPPS II - Computer
Assisted Passenger Prescreening System - will use databases that already operate in line with privacy laws and won't profile
based on race, religion or ethnicity. No data from the background checks will be stored.
Airlines already do rudimentary checks of passenger
information, such as method of payment, address and date the ticket was reserved.
CAPPS II will collect data and rate each passenger's
risk potential according to a three-color system: green, yellow, red. When travelers check in, their names will be punched
into the system and their boarding passes encrypted with the ranking. TSA screeners will check the passes at checkpoints.