Electronic Frontier Foundation
CAPPS II: Government Surveillance via Passenger Profiling
Why EFF Is Concerned About CAPPS II
For more information, read the complete statement at--
The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) would force you to surrender
more of your privacy in order to travel by air -- with little, if any, increase in security. If the
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) succeeds in implementing CAPPS II, the many personal details about you that have
been collected in both government and commercial databases would be an open book to travel authorities. How much of
your private life should the government be allowed to examine before you can exercise your right to travel freely?
CAPPS II could also misidentify
you as a terrorist, criminal, or other security threat requiring heightened government scrutiny. Personal
details about you, correct or not, could repeatedly trip the security wire, yet there would be no effective way for you to
access your own CAPPS II file to correct the mistake. Meanwhile, airport personnel would squander valuable time and
resources on you and other CAPPS II "false positives" rather than on real terrorists.
Worst of all, CAPPS II could
come to serve as an all-purpose dragnet. Originally, CAPPS II was meant to serve as a tool to prevent
foreign terrorists from boarding flights. Then the government decided that it would also be used to profile "domestic
terrorists," employing a fuzzy definition that could apply to legitimate political activists. Then CAPPS II was once
again expanded, this time to include screening for people wanted for violent crimes or for flouting immigration laws.
All of this "mission creep"
has taken place before CAPPS II has even been implemented. How many more classes of people will CAPPS
II target once it is installed and operational at airports across the country? And how many other modes of travel will
eventually fall under the CAPPS II purview?
How CAPPS II Would Work
- Step One: Collecting Personal Information About
- Step Two: Checking Your Identity Against Government
and Commercial Databases ...
- .Step Three: Secret Profiling & Color Coding
Congress Gives CAPPS II a Failing Grade
Congress's investigatory arm, the General Accounting Office (GAO), reports
that as of January 2004 the TSA has failed to meet seven out of eight Congressional requirements for CAPPS II. Specifically,
TSA has failed to:
- adequately assess the accuracy of information in the databases that will
be used for CAPPS II;
- stress test the CAPPS II system and demonstrate its efficacy and accuracy;
- install safeguards to protect CAPPS II from abuse;
- install security measures to protect unauthorized access to travelers' personal
- establish effective oversight of the system's use and operation;
- address privacy concerns regarding CAPPS II; and
- create redress procedures for passengers to correct erroneous information.
Thankfully, Congress does not intend to release funds for the system's implementation
until TSA has satisfied the above criteria. However, President Bush has made it clear that he believes these requirements
to be merely advisory and, as such, will not serve to prevent TSA from proceeding with implementation as scheduled.
Hence, the fight over implementing CAPPS II is far from over.
Coming Soon: The "Trusted Traveler" Program
In addition to CAPPS II, TSA is working on a "Trusted Traveler" program that
would allow some people to opt out of airport security screening. Under the program, travelers who submit to an extensive
background check would, after paying a fee, receive an ID card allowing them to skip extra airport screenings.
The danger here is obvious: if a terrorist discovers how to game the system
and successfully register as a "trusted traveler," he can bypass otherwise unavoidable searches for bombs and weapons.
This leaves every passenger more, not less, vulnerable to a stealth attack.
Apart from the problem of trading real security for the illusion thereof,
"trusted traveler" ID cards could have a number of unsavory unintended consequences. These include opening up a new
market for identity theft, creating a de facto national ID card, and establishing a form of "class structure" based
on the level of trust that the government affords a cardholder.
The bottom line is that by treating each of us as a suspected criminal or
terrorist, CAPPS II would rob us of our most fundamental rights as U.S. citizens without proof that it will make any of us
any safer. TSA should abandon CAPPS II and put our valuable security resources into programs that strike an appropriate
balance between providing enhanced safety and protecting the freedoms central to American life.