Group of Alaskans Sues Federal Transportation Agency

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A group of Alaskans has sued the Transportation Security Administration to find out what information the agency has collected on them.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, accuses the federal transportation agency of stonewalling the plaintiffs' requests and destroying pertinent records.

The group has been trying since May to find out what information the TSA has collected on them while testing a new terrorist-watch database called Secure Flight, according to the suit.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the TSA to stop deleting files and hand over information about the plaintiffs. It also asks that the agency be found in violation of the Privacy Act.

Privacy activist Bill Scannell of California said it is important for Alaskans to be able to access information kept about them by the TSA, to make sure it is correct so they don't get barred from a flight.

''Here in Alaska, if you're told you can't fly, you're effectively exiled,'' he said. ''What are you going to do -- walk? Take a taxi?''

To test its new Secure Flight system, the TSA had ordered all major domestic carriers to turn over their passenger name records for June 2004.

After the test, the agency announced it was purging records it no longer needed, the lawsuit says. The plaintiffs, who had all flown in June 2004, wrote repeatedly to the TSA, asking them not to destroy records collected during the test, but the agency said it could not find the records, Harrison said.

''It comes to a point where we say: 'What are you hiding?''' plaintiff Charles Beckley said.

A spokeswoman for the TSA told the Anchorage Daily News that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The agency's Secure Flight database will replace the system domestic airlines use to check passengers against the government's no-fly and watch lists, the TSA said.

The TSA had not notified the public before contracting with a private company to add more information to the database. The expanded records included information such as full names, phone numbers, dates of birth and possibly other personal information, the lawsuit says.

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, concluded earlier this year that the TSA violated the law when it did not fully inform the public about the scope and methods of its data collection.

The new system will collect more personal information on individuals in an attempt to reduce cases of mistaken identity, the TSA said. After a few days, the information would be purged. Credit card and Social Security numbers are not part of the information collected, according to a TSA spokeswoman.

The plaintiffs are John Davis, superintendent of the Bering Strait School District; Sarah Huntley and William Beck who own an Anchorage-area travel agency; and Beckley, a Montana resident who provides technical support to rural Alaska school districts.

A hearing on the matter has not yet been set.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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