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[casi] New System to assign "color code" to airline passengers

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WASHINGTON (Feb. 28) - Delta Air Lines will begin testing a new government
plan for air security next month that will check background information and
assign a threat level to everyone who buys a ticket for a commercial flight.

The system, ordered by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks, will gather much
more information on passengers than has been done previously. Delta will try
it out at three undisclosed airports, and a comprehensive system could be in
place by the end of the year.

Transportation officials say a contractor will be picked soon to build the
nationwide computer system, which will check such things as credit reports
and bank account activity and compare passenger names with those on
government watch lists.

Civil liberties groups and activists are objecting to the plan, seeing the
potential for unconstitutional invasions of privacy and for database mix-ups
that could lead to innocent people being branded security risks.

``This system threatens to create a permanent blacklisted underclass of
Americans who cannot travel freely,'' said Katie Corrigan, a lawyer for the
American Civil Liberties Union.

There also is concern that the government is developing the system without
revealing how information will be gathered and how long it will be kept.

Advocates say the system will weed out dangerous people while ensuring
law-abiding citizens aren't given unnecessary scrutiny.

Transportation officials say CAPPS II - Computer Assisted Passenger
Prescreening System - will use databases that already operate in line with
privacy laws and won't profile based on race, religion or ethnicity.

``What it does is have very fast access to existing databases so we can
quickly validate the person's identity,'' Transportation Secretary Norman
Mineta said.

An oversight panel, which will include a member of the public, is being
formed. The Transportation Security Administration will set up procedures to
resolve complaints by people who say they don't belong on the watch lists.

Transportation Department spokesman Chet Lunner said a Federal Register
notice saying the background information will be stored for 50 years is
inaccurate. He said such information will be held only for people deemed
security risks.

Jay Stanley, an ACLU spokesman, was skeptical.

``When it says in print, 50 years, we'd like to see something else in print
to counter that,'' he said.

Airlines already do rudimentary checks of passenger information, such as
method of payment, address and date the ticket was reserved. The system was
developed by Northwest Airlines in the early 1990s to spot possible

Unusual behavior, such as purchasing a one-way ticket with cash, is supposed
to prompt increased scrutiny at the airport.

Capt. Steve Luckey, an airline pilot who helped develop the system, said
CAPPS II will help discern a passenger's possible intentions before he gets
on a plane

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