Magazine article Information Management

U.S. to Start Airline Background Checks

Magazine article Information Management

U.S. to Start Airline Background Checks

Article excerpt

Perhaps as early as this summer, the U.S. government's plan to check all airline passengers' backgrounds before they board a plane could be in place. The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS II, would screen all passengers by checking their information against commercial or government databases.

The government will compel airlines and airline reservations companies to hand over passenger records for scrutiny by U.S. officials. The computerized system will collect each traveler's full name, home address, telephone number, date of birth, and travel itinerary. The data will be fed into large databases, such as Lexis-Nexis and Acxiom, that tap public records and commercial computer banks to verify that passengers are who they say they are. Once a passenger is identified, the CAPPS II system will compare him or her against wanted criminals and suspected terrorists contained in other databases.

Under the system, all passengers would receive a number and one of three color coded ratings--green, yellow, or red--indicating the level of risk. Suspected terrorists or violent criminals would be designated red and forbidden to fly. Passengers who triggered concerns would be classified yellow and receive extra security screening. "Green" passengers would warrant only routine screening. Factored into each person's score will be intelligence about certain routes and airports where there might be higher-rated risks to security.

CAPPS II has been criticized by privacy advocates, who contend the system infringes on civil liberties and might wrongly label people as security threats. U.S. airlines have been reluctant to cooperate with the government because of these concerns and possible backlash from passengers.

Northwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Delta Air Lines already have come under fire for sharing passenger data with the government without letting customers know. Northwest acknowledged that it had provided three months of data, which included credit card numbers, addresses, and phone numbers, on millions of passengers soon after September 11, 2001, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for a secret government air-security project. NASA said it used the information to investigate whether data mining of the records could improve assessments of threats posed by passengers. JetBlue conceded it had violated its privacy policy by turning over records on 1.1 million customers to a defense contractor. Both airlines were criticized for voluntarily sharing customer data and are being sued by angry passengers in class-action lawsuits. …

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