The US government wants airlines to turn over information on more than a million people who traveled in June to test a new system for identifying passengers who may pose a security risk, officials said on Tuesday.
The Transportation Security Administration proposed an order that would compel 77 airlines to provide names, addresses and other information collected through carriers’ reservation systems for domestic travel during the month.
All passenger records will be compared with a newly concentrated security watch list, compiled by federal law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies.
In some circumstances, names and other information would be compared with private databases used by banks and mortgage and credit agencies to ensure that identities given to airlines are consistent with commercial records.
Security regulators are giving the airlines a month to contest the proposal or suggest changes, but signaled they plan to move forward with a final order in late October. A 30 day test period would begin a month later. The government hopes to have the program in place next spring.
“This is an important moment in aviation security,” said David Stone, the TSA’s administrator. “We are advancing a vital tool to combat terrorism.”
Justin Oberman, TSA’s director of risk assessment, said the agency must complete the test with “live” information to accurately assess technological and other hurdles associated with obtaining and comparing passenger information.
However, airline reservation and data collection systems, in some cases, are outdated and may not function well with software used by the government.
The cost of changing any airline system would be borne by the carriers, many of which are struggling financially.
“We’ll do things on our end to make it less cumbersome for them,” Oberman said.
Since the September 11, 2001, hijack attacks, the government has banked that more efficient technological vetting would free more resources to concentrate on a smaller pool of potential threats and speed airport security for everyone else.
Currently 16 percent of passengers are pulled aside at airports for secondary security checks, which this week were expanded to include pat-down searches in some cases.
The latest effort to analyze personal information replaces some elements of a more ambitious USD$100 million initiative shelved this spring over challenges by privacy advocates that it was too broad and poorly thought out.
Another hurdle with the previous plan, the second generation of the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening program, was gaining access to passenger records voluntarily from the airlines.
TSA officials say access to passenger information will be restricted to agency personnel and private contractors working on the project. The agency is working on a plan for permanently disposing of the information.