Thursday, February 27, 2003

Delta to test new security program

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WASHINGTON - The government is moving closer to revamping how it "profiles" airline passengers for closer scrutiny, and there might be a local connection to the new program.

The Transportation Security Administration will soon replace the way of assessing possible threats with a new computer profiling system, federal officials said Wednesday.

And the new project will be tested by Delta Air Lines, which operates its second-largest hub locally, although officials had no further details.

"Security is not a destination, but a journey, and we need to keep innovating along the way," said Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson, who appeared at a news conference with Adm. James T. Loy, the head of the Transportation Security Administration.

That agency, created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, is being moved to the new Department of Homeland Security Saturday, prompting officials to offer one last look at the work done so far and what still needs to be done.

And along with getting all bags screened for bombs electronically, the implementation of the new profiling system was listed as a top priority.

Currently, "CAPPS," or computer assisted passenger profiling system, is a simple computer program inside the airline reservation system. It only asks a handful of questions, and if a certain number pop up as yes, then the ticket agent or airline worker alerts the TSA.

Under the new system, called CAPPS II, the computer would seek much more information about a passenger, and the process would be controlled by the TSA, not the airlines. But there still would be a connection with airline workers, who could alert TSA workers if there was a problem. There also could be a computer connection between the system and TSA workers at security checkpoints.

Federal officials say the process also would do a better job of matching names with a list of known or suspected terrorists, a so-called "watch list."

"It will be similar to a merchant seeking approval on a credit card, and just as fast," said Jackson, who said that there could be a three-level rating - green, yellow, and red, with red meaning do not let that person onboard.

Privacy and civil rights advocates have criticized such plans to expand the profiling program, saying no clear guidelines are being given as to what information will be used or sought, or what criteria will be used to determine a threat.

Transportation Department spokesman Chet Lunner did say the new system would not use race or ethnicity as a criteria, but officials would not comment further on the new criteria.

The program is still under development, Jackson and Loy said, funded with $35 million appropriated in the final budget last week.

Jackson said that implementation was "imminent."

Officials with Atlanta-based Delta confirmed that the airline will participate in the pilot project, but would not elaborate on where or when it would be put in place.


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