AviationTSA suspends program aiming to screen passenger online info

Published 13 March 2014

The TSA has stopped testing a technology which reviews passengers’ online data as part of background checks for passengers who apply for the voluntary “Pre✓”program. The TSA had wanted to evaluate paper proposals, examine models, and test the proposed systems in real-world situations before issuing a contract, but now the TSA intends to explore other means of improving the background check process.

The TSA has stopped testing a technology which reviews passengers’ online data as part of background checks for passengers who apply for the voluntary “Pre✓” ”program. According to a recent TSA notice, the agency watched “prototype implementations” but decided against trying out the technology on actual passengers.

The Pre✓program allows airline passengers to check in through dedicated checkpoints without removing shoes, belts, laptops, or TSA-compliant liquids after paying a $85 fee and proving their identities. Currently, more than thirty million passengers have used the Pre✓option at more than 100 airports across the country.

NextGov reports that the TSA had wanted to evaluate paper proposals, examine models, and test the proposed systems in real-world situations before issuing a contract, but now the TSA intends to explore other means of improving the background check process. The TSA is unsure whether it would review the online data of Pre✓program candidates in the future, but the initiative will be suspended until at least mid-summer. According to TSA officials, DHS will conduct more analysis and research “to define standards for future third party solution applications.”

I think they are making adjustments to how they proceed because they worry that the live prototyping might raise a lot of issues,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU.

Under the proposed initiative, private screeners would accumulate biographic and biometric “non-governmental data elements to generate an assessment of the risk to the aviation transportation system that may be posed by a specific individual,” stated the TSA’s 2013 notice on the program. The selected vendor would provide a “reliable method that effectively identifies known travelers, based on a sound analysis and the application of an algorithm that produces dependable results.”

Some privacy advocates are concerned that the TSA is still considering the practice of online data review for Pre✓candidates.

There is a fear that conclusions drawn from connecting online data belonging to Pre✓candidates may be inaccurate. The technique proposed by the TSA could lead to discriminatory profiling of someone doing research on Islamic culture, gun rights, or suicide attacks. “We don’t want to go down the road of being scored and measured, and have to worry that every step we take or every click we make will have some sort of effect on us down the road,” Stanley said.

According to the White House’s fiscal 2015 budget, the Pre✓program is described as a cost-cutting measure. “By moving away from a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to passenger screening, TSA will improve the customer experience while enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of its screening operations,” the budgetproposal states.

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