Senators See Privacy Concerns in Pentagon's Data Collection; Write Rumsfeld about Rights of JetBlue Customers

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Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A Pentagon contractor may have violated privacy laws by collecting personal information on more than 1 million JetBlue Airways customers to develop passenger profiles, according to key senators.

The contractor, Torch Concepts, said it used the names, addresses and phone numbers in a data-mining program to "best distinguish normal JetBlue passengers from past terrorists."

"These actions suggest the contractor may have violated the Privacy Act of 1974, and they raise disturbing questions about the reliability of safeguards in place at the Defense Department to protect Americans' privacy," said a letter sent by the lawmakers to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The letter, which suggests a formal investigation is needed to determine how the information was used, was signed by Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee; Governmental Affairs ranking member Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

Army spokesman Maj. Gary Tallman declined to comment on the letter, as a matter of policy. "We don't discuss correspondence between Congress and senior leaders." He did say the Defense Department's Office of Science and Technology is "looking into the matter to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the execution of the contract."

Officials at the Homeland Security Department also are reviewing whether its agency, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), helped acquire the passenger data.

"There is no reason to believe any TSA employees were involved in the transfer of data, and we want to ensure that," said Brian Roehrkasse, Homeland Security spokesman.

Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the center believes the Privacy Act was violated by the contractor in an "egregious" manner. …