Magazine article Risk Management

Pre-Flight Screening

Magazine article Risk Management

Pre-Flight Screening

Article excerpt

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, many Americans accepted new security procedures, especially at airports and other transportation facilities, as a regrettable but acceptable price to pay tot the sake of safety. A new pre-flight screening process called CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening Program), however, threatens to go well beyond current screening procedures, using citizens' personal information to assign a hazard code to them. The controversial plan has civil liberties groups on the warpath and defense contractors left to ponder how much security can a free society sustain and still be worthy of the name.

In a speech last November, Al Gore noted that if the September 11 hijackers' backgrounds had been checked when they purchased their airline tickets, they might have been discovered before they carried out their plot. Gore said that many of the hijackers were already on CIA and FBI terrorist watchlists, and had intelligence analysts been able to cross-check the various names, phone numbers, expired visas and frequent flier numbers they used to buy their airline tickets, the hijackings probably could have been thwarted before any of the doomed planes left the ground.

Gore's comments highlighted a pressing need for Washington and the airline industry to re-evaluate its approach to pre-flight security. The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) answer to the problem is the controversial CAPPS II, which is still being reviewed for implementation in U.S. airports. The program was designed to determine the likelihood of any passenger posing a threat to the security of the flight and has already gone through preliminary testing with Delta airlines in three undisclosed airports.

If implemented, CAPPS II would require passengers to provide their full name, home address, telephone number, date of birth and basic itinerary information when reserving a flight. Then the program would cross-reference this with criminal records, credit and financial information, public records such as tax returns and voting history, and other intelligence (including attendance at political meetings or public demonstrations). Using this information, CAPPS II would compile a database that will provide an electronic risk assessment for every potential flier.

This assessment would assign passengers to one of three color-coded risk profiles. Green means the passenger must face normal airport security, yellow makes the passenger subject to higher scrutiny and red means the passenger is likely to pose a threat--and may be prohibited from boarding the plane altogether. …

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