Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US goes ahead with system to screen airline passengers

AFP , WASHINGTON

Anxious to avoid another Sept. 11, the US government has moved toward creating a controversial airline passenger screening system designed to filter out potential terrorists and prevent them from boarding planes.

The Transportation Security Administration notified carriers on Tuesday that it intended to proceed with a test of its Secure Flight program sometime in late November or early December and released a draft order compelling carriers to deliver personal information on their passengers.

"This is an important moment in aviation security," Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Rear Admiral David Stone said in a statement. "We are advancing a vital tool to combat terrorism and checking off another recommendation from the 9-11 Commission."

The proposed order directs domestic US airlines to provide data on all their passengers who flew last June. That would include full names, addresses, telephone numbers and other information usually requested when reservations are made.

If the test goes ahead as expected, the data will be checked against a giant database compiled by the Department of Homeland Security, an operation that, according to a department document, will allow to winnow out "individuals known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism."

The government will also be able to make use of databases compiled by banks, mortgage and credit rating agencies that contain extensive information on transactions by individuals and their financial situation, officials said.

The release of the draft initiates a 30-day consultative period, during which the airlines will be able to provide their comments and suggestions.

But the administration made clear the final order will be issued in late October, to be followed by a test of the entire system in November.

The Secure Flight program is expected to be become fully and permanently operational early next year and replace watch lists used by individual carriers.

Stone said the advance posting of the order was testimony to the government's "commitment to maintaining an open and transparent environment for the development of this important security tool."

The administration also assured the airlines it intended to stick to the strictest privacy protection standards.

The American Civil Liberties Union urged Congress late last month to use extreme caution in expanding passenger profiling systems, saying they could unnecessarily intrude upon the privacy of Americans while doing little to make the skies safer.

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