The Transportation Security Administration has had to abandon one passenger screening program, CAPPS II, because of privacy and accuracy questions; now its successor, Secure Flight, is in trouble for the same reasons.
Congressional investigators doubt that Secure Flight will be ready to go into effect as planned this August. And if half the concerns raised by the investigators are true, it shouldn't.
Under Secure Flight, TSA would combine government, airline and commercial databases to try to identify likely terrorists before they board an aircraft. The system is supposed to screen out "selectees" for different levels of screening and those who match a government "no-fly" list would be prohibited from boarding at all.
Making a system like this work with any kind of speed and accuracy is extraordinarily difficult, and TSA doesn't seem to be making much headway. As the half-designed system stands now, it's one more level of passenger hassle without any apparent security benefits.
Last year, Congress laid down 10 criteria that Secure Flight had to meet before TSA could begin using the system. TSA has addressed one — the establishment of an internal oversight board. Still not addressed, according to the Government Accountability Office, are critical issues of privacy, accuracy, oversight, safeguards from abuse and unauthorized access and creation of a process for passengers to correct erroneous information.
This is of more than passing interest, thanks to horror stories of people like Sen. Ted Kennedy, one of the nation's more recognizable public figures, denied boarding cause the computer flagged his name.
If this system goes into effect, it is likely to expand like any other government program. The airlines worry that TSA will soon require passengers to give their date of birth when purchasing a ticket, one more step in making a simple straightforward transaction into something like applying for a mortgage.