Feds to nix certain data in traveler screening

The government has decided to backtrack on its plans to use personal data from commercial sources when it first launches a controversial airline passenger pre-screening program.

Secure Flight, run by the Transportation Security Administration, proposes to compare personal passenger data against information in a terrorist database. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the firm conducting the project's pilot tests, which began earlier this year, used records from the large data aggregators Acxiom, InsightAmerica and Qwest.

The government says the program's intent is to prescreen passenger lists to meet law enforcement goals, but privacy and civil liberties groups say its purposes remain too murky.

And in June, further inciting controversy, the Government Accountability Office reported that the TSA had been breaking federal privacy laws during the testing process.

Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that he welcomed the shift away from commercial data but called for a definitive, public commitment from the TSA "that it will never use files on Americans compiled by commercial data brokers."

The TSA's decision came on the heels of a government-appointed working group report, expected to be released Monday, that is highly critical of the Secure Flight program.

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    Anne Broache
    covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
     

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