Administration drops CAPPS II

[CAPPS II was extensively covered in the feature “Seeking Safety in the Skies” in the July edition.]

A day after Adm. David Stone, acting director
of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told Congress that
elements of the program were being “reshaped,” Homeland Security
Secretary Tom Ridge officially declared the controversial program
effectively “dead” in response to a reporter’s question, validating
early, ominous indicators from various DHS officials. Emphasizing its
demise, Ridge mimed driving a stake through its heart.

Under CAPPS II, airline passengers would have
been required to provide more personal information than at present,
which would have been compared with information in commercial and
government databases. Critics alleged the program would profile the
potential threat passengers presented, presumably leading to further
scrutiny. Airlines feared this process would increase the “hassle
factor” that would drive passengers to alternative transportation such
as rail or car.

White House officials, who have seen
President George Bush’s popularity tumble after repeated revelations of
intelligence failures related to the war in Iraq, were loath to take
new, unpopular measures during the summer travel season and with the
election just four months away.

Both conservative and liberal civil libertarians opposed to CAPPS II celebrated its demise.

“The government has recognized that this
program would have immense implications for Americans’ privacy, while
providing little protection against terrorism,” said Laura W. Murphy,
director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative

Added Barry Steinhardt, director of ACLU’s
Technology and Liberty Project, “Knowing that this program is dead, I
do not feel one bit more vulnerable to terrorist attack. But I feel a
lot less afraid of getting trapped in a tangled security bureaucracy,
with no assurance of getting out.”

The American Conservative Union (ACU) also
lauded the demise, saying on July 15 it would oppose any resurrection
of the program that was not radically different. The ACU had charged
that CAPPS II in essence would turn law-abiding airline passengers into
terrorism suspects.

“The death of the CAPPS II program was a
foregone conclusion, once TSA began to proclaim it as the solution to
the nation’s aviation security challenges,” said Andrew Thomas,
professor of international business at the University of Akron in Ohio.
“If we know anything, it is that magic bullets are never the answer. It
isonly the human process supported by technology—not the other way
around—that permits us to adjust security measures to an ever-changing
threat environment. Dishearteningly, TSA and the Department of Homeland
Security have either been unable or unwilling to accept this
fundamental security reality,”

The National Business Travel Association (NBTA) issued a statement July 19 applauding the decision to dump CAPPS II.

At press time, the Air Transport Association,
which represents the nation’s principal airlines, had not responded to
a request for comment. HST

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