Airport screening raises privacy issue

Analysis of Secure Flight

The TSA will also offer people an opportunity to provide their date of birth and gender, so that if their name is the same or very similar to one the watch list the TSA can easily, and permanently, distinguish between them. TSA officials contend that with just a name, 95 percent of the matches against the watch list will be accurate. With a name and date of birth, that percentage goes up to 98.5 percent. Add date of birth, and officials insist there will 99.5 percent accuracy.

"Back in 2004, the TSA said this would cut random screening from 15 to 2 percent and to the extent that's even close to the correct scale of improvement, it will process everyone [through the security lines] more quickly from the nonsecure to the secure side of the airport," says Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor, Pa. "That's incredibly important."

Mr. Mitchell and others are waiting for more detail before judging whether the new system will protect traveler's privacy, but Mitchell says it's a great improvement over the earlier version.

Many civil libertarians agree that it is a better program, but say there is still too much secrecy with Secure Flight.

"Whatever negative information the government has on US travelers that leads to greater scrutiny or even being kept off a plane is not disclosed to travelers," says Marc Rotenberg, executive director and president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "That's a fundamental privacy issue: It's basically the government having a secret file that adversely impacts you, and you can't see if it's accurate."

The TSA notes that travelers who feel they're unfairly being targeted by the watch list check program can file complaints at and ask to be removed from the list.

(c) Copyright 2007. The Christian Science Monitor

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