Subject: CAPPS-II and Surveillance of Travellers
In an op-ed on June 25th, Admiral James Loy of the Transportation Security
Administration claims that the CAPPS-II system for surveillance of airline passengers
would use only "routine passenger information -- name, date of birth, home
address and home phone number."
That such an Orwellian scheme is being implemented under the direction of someone
who insists on using his military title, while administering what purports to
be a civilian agency, is symptomatic of the extent to which the "war on
terrorism" has become a war on civil liberties.
Contrary to Adm. Loy's claim, the data which the TSA would require airlines
and travel agents to collect and compile under CAPPS-II is not "routinely"
required from airline passengers. Airline reservation systems don't even have
a field for date of birth, or a standard field for a passenger address. 80%
of airline reservations have only names and a single phone number, even if the
reservation is for multiple passengers. And the phone number in the reservation
is, in most cases, that of the travel agent rather than that of one of the travellers.
The primary effect of the latest version of the proposal ("CAPPS 2.1"),
would be to mandate travelers within the USA -- who previously have not needed
a domestic passport -- to provide detailed identifying information for the government's
use, and to prove our identity with government issued identity papers. This
is a surveillance system and national ID requirement, not a security system.
Our travel reservations reveal not just everywhere we go on an airline but
with whom and, behind the closed doors of our hotel room, whether we asked for
one bed or two. Unlike Canada and the European Union, the USA has no general
law protecting the privacy of personal data. And travel data is by far the largest
and most sensitive category of personal information not yet protected by Federal
law. Unless Congress enacts a travel privacy law, the information we will have
to provide under CAPPS-II will become the sole property of the airlines, which
will be free to use or sell to whomever they please, with no obligation to tell us or ask our permission. CAPPS-II would be a government-mandated windfall for airlines as marketers of data archives about us and our travels.
Adm. Loy also says that, "In developing CAPPS II, the TSA initiated a
national dialogue with everyone concerned, including privacy advocacy groups."
What he doesn't say is that, having initiated that dialogue, the TSA almost
immediately discontinued it when they discovered the extent of opposition to
CAPPS-II. Only one meeting with privacy advocates was held. The second meeting,
to which I've been invited, was scheduled in March, but has been repeatedly
postponed, and not yet held. TSA statements give no evidence that they have
acted on any of the suggestions from myself or other privacy advocates: the
"dialogue" has to date seems to have been only a propaganda exercise.
Meanwhile, CAPPS-II testing has begun, using real data on real airline passengers
from past flights, even before the completion of the regulatory process to authorize
it, and in apparent violation of the rights of European and Canadian passengers
on the flights from which data was used for the tests.
CAPPS-II is a huge departure from "routine" travel information and identification practices. What's needed is for Congress not just to put a stop to CAPPS-II, but to give travellers in the USA the same privacy protections as those in Canada and Europe.
Silver Bay, NY
26 June 2003
[Edward Hasbrouck is a consumer advocate for travellers and the author of "The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace" and "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World"]