Air Transport World

Mission creep: CAPPS II may and up costing taxpayers a lot of money while only partially achieving its goal of improving aviation security.(Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System)

The new US system for evaluating whether or not an airline passenger poses a terrorist threat is in danger of mimicking other post-9/11 antiterrorist efforts in aviation: Appearing to do something while missing the objective of increasing security.

In a post-9/11 panic, Congress enacted numerous laws designed to prevent future attacks, foremost among them the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001. Its aims included strengthening preflight information-gathering on and risk assessment of air passengers. The result is the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System or CAPPS II, a much-expanded version of earlier software developed by Northwest Airlines, used by some but not all carriers prior to 9111, and approved by the government.

As airline IT experts noted after 9/11 (ATW 11/01, p. 31), the then-existing CAPPS already was risk-based and identified passengers whose bags should be checked for explosives. But the government, afraid of profiling complaints, would not allow it to be used to prescreen passengers. Robert Poole of the Reason Public Policy Institute recalls, "It was okay to screen bags of suspicious passengers because they would not know it was occurring. But it wasn't okay to single our passengers for more scrutiny."

The Transportation Security Administration, now a part of the Dept. of Homeland Security, created and controls CAPPS II, which is supposed to be a compromise between more intensive risk evaluation and privacy invasion. Lockheed-Martin won a five-year contract to develop and manage CAPPS II, with the first phase worth $12.8 million. All carriers serving US markets, including international airlines for inbound and outbound markets, will be required to provide TSA with four data elements for each person who buys a ticket: Name, address, date of birth and telephone number. …

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