Ten Percent Solution

TSA reforms stall at the gate.


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to launch its Secure Flight passenger profiling system this summer. The agency's latest attempt to identify potentially dangerous travelers before they board planes, Secure Flight is a descendant of the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) and its stillborn successor, CAPPS II, which was abandoned in the wake of criticisms that it would be both intrusive and ineffective.

Unfortunately, Secure Flight may suffer from similar problems. Congress established 10 criteria to ensure the program would both be effective and protect traveler privacy. A March report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the TSA has met only one of those 10 benchmarks.

According to the report, the TSA has managed to establish an internal oversight board, but it has not finished establishing safeguards against abuse, creating a mechanism for passengers to correct erroneous information about themselves, assessing the accuracy of its databases, or developing cost estimates for the program, among other goals set by Congress. There are gaps in Secure Flight's theory as well as its practice: According to the GAO, "key policy decisions–including what [passenger] data will be collected and how they will be transmitted–have not yet been made."

TSA spokespeople insist they're on schedule to launch in August. Cathleen Berrick, the GAO's director of homeland security and justice issues, evinced somewhat more qualified optimism in the assessment she gave Wired News: "I wouldn't want to say it's impossible."