Sunday, February 12, 2006

GAO Tells Congress of Data Security Problems, Privacy Concerns Persist With 'Secure Flight'

ABC News
New Passenger Screening Program Hits Turbulence
GAO Tells Congress of Data Security Problems, Privacy Concerns Persist With 'Secure Flight'

Feb. 9, 2006 — - Significant challenges, some relating to data security, remain in developing a program intended to keep terrorists off airplanes, the Government Accountability Office told Congress today.

GAO official Cathleen Berrick testified that the Transportation Security Administration is reviewing problems with the Secure Flight passenger prescreening program. The ambitious new program intends to check airline passengers' names against the government's terror watch list.

Just weeks ago, the TSA said it hoped to soon launch Secure Flight, but lawmakers and privacy groups have expressed concern about government plans for using personal information to screen air travelers.

Berrick said that although TSA has taken steps to implement better information security, that its efforts are incomplete.

"Without a completed system security program, Secure Flight may not be adequately protected against unauthorized access and use or disruption once the program becomes operational," Berrick told the Senate panel.

Privacy Vs. Safety Concerns

Now the agency said it hopes to roll out Secure Flight in phases with better data security measures, said Edmund "Kip" Hawley, assistant secretary for TSA. But he gave no indication when that might begin.

Besides checking passenger names against watch lists, Secure Flight is also supposed to be able to more accurately distinguish passengers with similar names to those on watch lists so that innocent passengers would not be subjected to additional screening at an airport because of a false positive match.

Hawley said that the TSA is "fully committed to protecting passenger privacy with the deployment of Secure Flight by incorporating privacy protection features into the system design."

Another TSA prescreening program, Registered Traveler, seems to be faring better. Registered Traveler would allow frequent fliers who do not pose a security threat to sign up for the program. Members could be required to supply background information or submit to a biometric eye scan, but when they arrive at the airport, they would receive expedited treatment at security screening points.

The fee-based program would be entirely voluntary. TSA expects to start the screening of Registered Traveler applicants in mid-June.