Entries Tagged "data mining"

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Secure Flight News

The TSA is not going to use commercial databases in its initial roll-out of Secure Flight, its airline screening program that matches passengers with names on the Watch List and No-Fly List. I don’t believe for a minute that they’re shelving plans to use commercial data permanently, but at least they’re delaying the process.

In other news, the report (also available here, here, and here) of the Secure Flight Privacy/IT Working Group is public. I was a member of that group, but honestly, I didn’t do any writing for the report. I had given up on the process, sick of not being able to get any answers out of TSA, and believed that the report would end up in somebody’s desk drawer, never to be seen again. I was stunned when I learned that the ASAC made the report public.

There’s a lot of stuff in the report, but I’d like to quote the section that outlines the basic questions that the TSA was unable to answer:

The SFWG found that TSA has failed to answer certain key questions about Secure Flight: First and foremost, TSA has not articulated what the specific goals of Secure Flight are. Based on the limited test results presented to us, we cannot assess whether even the general goal of evaluating passengers for the risk they represent to aviation security is a realistic or feasible one or how TSA proposes to achieve it. We do not know how much or what kind of personal information the system will collect or how data from various sources will flow through the system.

Until TSA answers these questions, it is impossible to evaluate the potential privacy or security impact of the program, including:

  • Minimizing false positives and dealing with them when they occur.
  • Misuse of information in the system.
  • Inappropriate or illegal access by persons with and without permissions.
  • Preventing use of the system and information processed through it for purposes other than airline passenger screening.

The following broadly defined questions represent the critical issues we believe TSA must address before we or any other advisory body can effectively evaluate the privacy and security impact of Secure Flight on the public.

  1. What is the goal or goals of Secure Flight? The TSA is under a Congressional mandate to match domestic airline passenger lists against the consolidated terrorist watch list. TSA has failed to specify with consistency whether watch list matching is the only goal of Secure Flight at this stage. The Secure Flight Capabilities and Testing Overview, dated February 9, 2005 (a non-public document given to the SFWG), states in the Appendix that the program is not looking for unknown terrorists and has no intention of doing so. On June 29, 2005, Justin Oberman (Assistant Administrator, Secure Flight/Registered Traveler) testified to a Congressional committee that “Another goal proposed for Secure Flight is its use to establish “Mechanisms for…violent criminal data vetting.” Finally, TSA has never been forthcoming about whether it has an additional, implicit goal the tracking of terrorism suspects (whose presence on the terrorist watch list does not necessarily signify intention to commit violence on a flight).

    While the problem of failing to establish clear goals for Secure Flight at a given point in time may arise from not recognizing the difference between program definition and program evolution, it is clearly an issue the TSA must address if Secure Flight is to proceed.

  2. What is the architecture of the Secure Flight system? The Working Group received limited information about the technical architecture of Secure Flight and none about how software and hardware choices were made. We know very little about how data will be collected, transferred, analyzed, stored or deleted. Although we are charged with evaluating the privacy and security of the system, we saw no statements of privacy policies and procedures other than Privacy Act notices published in the Federal Register for Secure Flight testing. No data management plan either for the test phase or the program as implemented was provided or discussed.
  3. Will Secure Flight be linked to other TSA applications? Linkage with other screening programs (such as Registered Traveler, Transportation Worker Identification and Credentialing (TWIC), and Customs and Border Patrol systems like U.S.-VISIT) that may operate on the same platform as Secure Flight is another aspect of the architecture and security question. Unanswered questions remain about how Secure Flight will interact with other vetting programs operating on the same platform; how it will ensure that its policies on data collection, use and retention will be implemented and enforced on a platform that also operates programs with significantly different policies in these areas; and how it will interact with the vetting of passengers on international flights?
  4. How will commercial data sources be used? One of the most controversial elements of Secure Flight has been the possible uses of commercial data. TSA has never clearly defined two threshold issues: what it means by “commercial data” and how it might use commercial data sources in the implementation of Secure Flight. TSA has never clearly distinguished among various possible uses of commercial data, which all have different implications.

    Possible uses of commercial data sometimes described by TSA include: (1) identity verification or authentication; (2) reducing false positives by augmenting passenger records indicating a possible match with data that could help distinguish an innocent passenger from someone on a watch list; (3) reducing false negatives by augmenting all passenger records with data that could suggest a match that would otherwise have been missed; (4) identifying sleepers, which itself includes: (a) identifying false identities; and (b) identifying behaviors indicative of terrorist activity. A fifth possibility has not been discussed by TSA: using commercial data to augment watch list entries to improve their fidelity. Assuming that identity verification is part of Secure Flight, what are the consequences if an identity cannot be verified with a certain level of assurance?

    It is important to note that TSA never presented the SFWG with the results of its commercial data tests. Until these test results are available and have been independently analyzed, commercial data should not be utilized in the Secure Flight program.

  5. Which matching algorithms work best? TSA never presented the SFWG with test results showing the effectiveness of algorithms used to match passenger names to a watch list. One goal of bringing watch list matching inside the government was to ensure that the best available matching technology was used uniformly. The SFWG saw no evidence that TSA compared different products and competing solutions. As a threshold matter, TSA did not describe to the SFWG its criteria for determining how the optimal matching solution would be determined. There are obvious and probably not-so-obvious tradeoffs between false positives and false negatives, but TSA did not explain how it reconciled these concerns.
  6. What is the oversight structure and policy for Secure Flight? TSA has not produced a comprehensive policy document for Secure Flight that defines oversight or governance responsibilities.

The members of the working group, and the signatories to the report, are Martin Abrams, Linda Ackerman, James Dempsey, Edward Felten, Daniel Gallington, Lauren Gelman, Steven Lilenthal, Anna Slomovic, and myself.

My previous posts about Secure Flight, and my involvement in the working group, are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

And in case you think things have gotten better, there’s a new story about how the no-fly list cost a pilot his job:

Cape Air pilot Robert Gray said he feels like he’s living a nightmare. Two months after he sued the federal government for refusing to let him take flight training courses so he could fly larger planes, he said yesterday, his situation has only worsened.

When Gray showed up for work a couple of weeks ago, he said Cape Air told him the government had placed him on its no-fly list, making it impossible for him to do his job. Gray, a Belfast native and British citizen, said the government still won’t tell him why it thinks he’s a threat.

“I haven’t been involved in any kind of terrorism, and I never committed any crime,” said Gray, 35, of West Yarmouth. He said he has never been arrested and can’t imagine what kind of secret information the government is relying on to destroy his life.

Remember what the no-fly list is. It’s a list of people who are so dangerous that they can’t be allowed to board an airplane under any circumstances, yet so innocent that they can’t be arrested — even under the provisions of the PATRIOT Act.

EDITED TO ADD: The U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General released a report last month on Secure Flight, basically concluding that the costs were out of control, and that the TSA didn’t know how much the program would cost in the future.

Here’s an article about some of the horrible problems people who have mistakenly found themselves on the no-fly list have had to endure. And another on what you can do if you find yourself on a list.

EDITED TO ADD: EPIC has received a bunch of documents about continued problems with false positives.

Posted on September 26, 2005 at 7:14 AMView Comments

Unintended Information Revelation

Here’s a new Internet data-mining research program with a cool name: Unintended Information Revelation:

Existing search engines process individual documents based on the number of times a key word appears in a single document, but UIR constructs a concept chain graph used to search for the best path connecting two ideas within a multitude of documents.

To develop the method, researchers used the chapters of the 9/11 Commission Report to establish concept ontologies – lists of terms of interest in the specific domains relevant to the researchers: aviation, security and anti-terrorism issues.

“A concept chain graph will show you what’s common between two seemingly unconnected things,” said Srihari. “With regular searches, the input is a set of key words, the search produces a ranked list of documents, any one of which could satisfy the query.

“UIR, on the other hand, is a composite query, not a keyword query. It is designed to find the best path, the best chain of associations between two or more ideas. It returns to you an evidence trail that says, ‘This is how these pieces are connected.'”

The hope is to develop the core algorithms exposing veiled paths through documents generated by different individuals or organisations.

I’m a big fan of research, and I’m glad to see it being done. But I hope there is a lot of discussion and debate before we deploy something like this. I want to be convinced that the false positives don’t make it useless as an intelligence-gathering tool.

Posted on August 30, 2005 at 12:53 PMView Comments

Secure Flight News

According to Wired News, the DHS is looking for someone in Congress to sponsor a bill that eliminates congressional oversight over the Secure Flight program.

The bill would allow them to go ahead with the program regardless of GAO’s assessment. (Current law requires them to meet ten criteria set by Congress; the most recent GAO report said that they did not meet nine of them.) The bill would allow them to use commercial data even though they have not demonstrated its effectiveness. (The DHS funding bill passed by both the House and the Senate prohibits them from using commercial data during passenger screening, because there has been absolutely no test results showing that it is effective.)

In this new bill, all that would be required to go ahead with Secure Flight would be for Secretary Chertoff to say so:

Additionally, the proposed changes would permit Secure Flight to be rolled out to the nation’s airports after Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff certifies the program will be effective and not overly invasive. The current bill requires independent congressional investigators to make that determination.

Looks like the DHS, being unable to comply with the law, is trying to change it. This is a rogue program that needs to be stopped.

In other news, the TSA has deleted about three million personal records it used for Secure Flight testing. This seems like a good idea, but it prevents people from knowing what data the government had on them — in violation of the Privacy Act.

Civil liberties activist Bill Scannell says it’s difficult to know whether TSA’s decision to destroy records so swiftly is a housecleaning effort or something else.

“Is the TSA just such an incredibly efficient organization that they’re getting rid of things that are no longer needed?” Scannell said. “Or is this a matter of the destruction of evidence?”

Scannell says it’s a fair question to ask in light of revelations that the TSA already violated the Privacy Act last year when it failed to fully disclose the scope of its testing for Secure Flight and its collection of commercial data on individuals.

My previous essay on Secure Flight is here.

Posted on August 15, 2005 at 9:43 AMView Comments

Automatic Surveillance Via Cell Phone

Your cell phone company knows where you are all the time. (Well, it knows where your phone is whenever it’s on.) Turns out there’s a lot of information to be mined in that data.

Eagle’s Realty Mining project logged 350,000 hours of data over nine months about the location, proximity, activity and communication of volunteers, and was quickly able to guess whether two people were friends or just co-workers….

He and his team were able to create detailed views of life at the Media Lab, by observing how late people stayed at the lab, when they called one another and how much sleep students got.

Given enough data, Eagle’s algorithms were able to predict what people — especially professors and Media Lab employees — would do next and be right up to 85 percent of the time.

This is worrisome from a number of angles: government surveillance, corporate surveillance for marketing purposes, criminal surveillance. I am not mollified by this comment:

People should not be too concerned about the data trails left by their phone, according to Chris Hoofnagle, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“The location data and billing records is protected by statute, and carriers are under a duty of confidentiality to protect it,” Hoofnagle said.

We’re building an infrastructure of surveillance as a side effect of the convenience of carrying our cell phones everywhere.

Posted on July 28, 2005 at 4:09 PM

The Sorting Door Project

From The Register:

A former CIA intelligence analyst and researchers from SAP plan to study how RFID tags might be used to profile and track individuals and consumer goods.

“I believe that tags will be readily used for surveillance, given the interests of various parties able to deploy readers,” said Ross Stapleton-Gray, former CIA analyst and manager of the study, called the Sorting Door Project.

Sorting Door will be a test-bed for studying the massive databases that will be created by RFID tags and readers, once they become ubiquitous. The project will help legislators, regulators and businesses make policies that balance the interests of industry, national security and civil liberties, said Stapleton-Gray.

In Sorting Door, RFID readers (whether in doorways, walls or floors, or the hands of workers) will collect data from RFID tags and feed them into databases.

Sorting Door participants will then investigate how the RFID tag’s unique serial numbers, called EPCs, can be merged with other data to identify dangerous people and gather intelligence in a particular location.

Posted on July 26, 2005 at 9:31 AMView Comments

Secure Flight

Last Friday the GAO issued a new report on Secure Flight. It’s couched in friendly language, but it’s not good:

During the course of our ongoing review of the Secure Flight program, we found that TSA did not fully disclose to the public its use of personal information in its fall 2004 privacy notices as required by the Privacy Act. In particular, the public was not made fully aware of, nor had the opportunity to comment on, TSA’s use of personal information drawn from commercial sources to test aspects of the Secure Flight program. In September 2004 and November 2004, TSA issued privacy notices in the Federal Register that included descriptions of how such information would be used. However, these notices did not fully inform the public before testing began about the procedures that TSA and its contractors would follow for collecting, using, and storing commercial data. In addition, the scope of the data used during commercial data testing was not fully disclosed in the notices. Specifically, a TSA contractor, acting on behalf of the agency, collected more than 100 million commercial data records containing personal information such as name, date of birth, and telephone number without informing the public. As a result of TSA’s actions, the public did not receive the full protections of the Privacy Act.

Get that? The TSA violated federal law when it secretly expanded Secure Flight’s use of commercial data about passengers. It also lied to Congress and the public about it.

Much of this isn’t new. Last month we learned that:

The federal agency in charge of aviation security revealed that it bought and is storing commercial data about some passengers — even though officials said they wouldn’t do it and Congress told them not to.

Secure Flight is a disaster in every way. The TSA has been operating with complete disregard for the law or Congress. It has lied to pretty much everyone. And it is turning Secure Flight from a simple program to match airline passengers against terrorist watch lists into a complex program that compiles dossiers on passengers in order to give them some kind of score indicating the likelihood that they are a terrorist.

Which is exactly what it was not supposed to do in the first place.

Let’s review:

For those who have not been following along, Secure Flight is the follow-on to CAPPS-I. (CAPPS stands for Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening.) CAPPS-I has been in place since 1997, and is a simple system to match airplane passengers to a terrorist watch list. A follow-on system, CAPPS-II, was proposed last year. That complicated system would have given every traveler a risk score based on information in government and commercial databases. There was a huge public outcry over the invasiveness of the system, and it was cancelled over the summer. Secure Flight is the new follow-on system to CAPPS-I.

EPIC has more background information.

Back in January, Secure Flight was intended to just be a more efficient system of matching airline passengers with terrorist watch lists.

I am on a working group that is looking at the security and privacy implications of Secure Flight. Before joining the group I signed an NDA agreeing not to disclose any information learned within the group, and to not talk about deliberations within the group. But there’s no reason to believe that the TSA is lying to us any less than they’re lying to Congress, and there’s nothing I learned within the working group that I wish I could talk about. Everything I say here comes from public documents.

In January I gave some general conclusions about Secure Flight. These have not changed.

One, assuming that we need to implement a program of matching airline passengers with names on terrorism watch lists, Secure Flight is a major improvement — in almost every way — over what is currently in place. (And by this I mean the matching program, not any potential uses of commercial or other third-party data.)

Two, the security system surrounding Secure Flight is riddled with security holes. There are security problems with false IDs, ID verification, the ability to fly on someone else’s ticket, airline procedures, etc.

Three, the urge to use this system for other things will be irresistible. It’s just too easy to say: “As long as you’ve got this system that watches out for terrorists, how about also looking for this list of drug dealers…and by the way, we’ve got the Super Bowl to worry about too.” Once Secure Flight gets built, all it’ll take is a new law and we’ll have a nationwide security checkpoint system.

And four, a program of matching airline passengers with names on terrorism watch lists is not making us appreciably safer, and is a lousy way to spend our security dollars.

What has changed is the scope of Secure Flight. First, it started using data from commercial sources, like Acxiom. (The details are even worse.) Technically, they’re testing the use of commercial data, but it’s still a violation. Even the DHS started investigating:

The Department of Homeland Security’s top privacy official said Wednesday that she is investigating whether the agency’s airline passenger screening program has violated federal privacy laws by failing to properly disclose its mission.

The privacy officer, Nuala O’Connor Kelly, said the review will focus on whether the program’s use of commercial databases and other details were properly disclosed to the public.

The TSA’s response to being caught violating their own Privacy Act statements? Revise them:

According to previous official notices, TSA had said it would not store commercial data about airline passengers.

The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits the government from keeping a secret database. It also requires agencies to make official statements on the impact of their record keeping on privacy.

The TSA revealed its use of commercial data in a revised Privacy Act statement to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday.

TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said the program was being developed with a commitment to privacy, and that it was routine to change Privacy Act statements during testing.

Actually, it’s not. And it’s better to change the Privacy Act statement before violating the old one. Changing it after the fact just looks bad.

The point of Secure Flight match airline passengers against lists of suspected terrorists. But the vast majority of people flagged by this list simply have the same name, or a similar name, as the suspected terrorist: Ted Kennedy and Cat Stevens are two famous examples. The question is whether combining commercial data with the PNR (Passenger Name Record) supplied by the airline could reduce this false-positive problem. Maybe knowing the passenger’s address, or phone number, or date of birth, could reduce false positives. Or maybe not; it depends what data is on the terrorist lists. In any case, it’s certainly a smart thing to test.

But using commercial data has serious privacy implications, which is why Congress mandated all sorts of rules surrounding the TSA testing of commercial data — and more rules before it could deploy a final system — rules that the TSA has decided it can ignore completely.

Commercial data had another use under CAPPS-II In that now-dead program, every passenger would be subjected to a computerized background check to determine their “risk” to airline safety. The system would assign a risk score based on commercial data: their credit rating, how recently they moved, what kind of job they had, etc. This capability was removed from Secure Flight, but now it’s back:

The government will try to determine whether commercial data can be used to detect terrorist “sleeper cells” when it checks airline passengers against watch lists, the official running the project says….

Justin Oberman, in charge of Secure Flight at TSA, said the agency intends to do more testing of commercial data to see if it will help identify known or suspected terrorists not on the watch lists.

“We are trying to use commercial data to verify the identities of people who fly because we are not going to rely on the watch list,” he said. “If we just rise and fall on the watch list, it’s not adequate.”

Also this Congressional hearing (emphasis mine):

THOMPSON: There are a couple of questions I’d like to get answered in my mind about Secure Flight. Would Secure Flight pick up a person with strong community roots but who is in a terrorist sleeper cell or would a person have to be a known terrorist in order for Secure Flight to pick him up?

OBERMAN: Let me answer that this way: It will identify people who are known or suspected terrorists contained in the terrorist screening database, and it ought to be able to identify people who may not be on the watch list. It ought to be able to do that. We’re not in a position today to say that it does, but we think it’s absolutely critical that it be able to do that.

And so we are conducting this test of commercially available data to get at that exact issue.: Very difficult to do, generally. It’s particularly difficult to do when you have a system that transports 1.8 million people a day on 30,000 flights at 450 airports. That is a very high bar to get over.

It’s also very difficult to do with a threat described just like you described it, which is somebody who has sort of burrowed themselves into society and is not readily apparent to us when they’re walking through the airport. And so I cannot stress enough how important we think it is that it be able to have that functionality. And that’s precisely the reason we have been conducting this ommercial data test, why we’ve extended the testing period and why we’re very hopeful that the results will prove fruitful to us so that we can then come up here, brief them to you and explain to you why we need to include that in the system.

My fear is that TSA has already decided that they’re going to use commercial data, regardless of any test results. And once you have commercial data, why not build a dossier on every passenger and give them a risk score? So we’re back to CAPPS-II, the very system Congress killed last summer. Actually, we’re very close to TIA (Total/Terrorism Information Awareness), that vast spy-on-everyone data-mining program that Congress killed in 2003 because it was just too invasive.

Secure Flight is a mess in lots of other ways, too. A March GAO report said that Secure Flight had not met nine out of the ten conditions mandated by Congress before TSA could spend money on implementing the program. (If you haven’t read this report, it’s pretty scathing.) The redress problem — helping people who cannot fly because they share a name with a terrorist — is not getting any better. And Secure Flight is behind schedule and over budget.

It’s also a rogue program that is operating in flagrant disregard for the law. It can’t be killed completely; the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandates that TSA implement a program of passenger prescreening. And until we have Secure Flight, airlines will still be matching passenger names with terrorist watch lists under the CAPPS-I program. But it needs some serious public scrutiny.

EDITED TO ADD: Anita Ramasastry’s commentary is worth reading.

Posted on July 24, 2005 at 9:10 PMView Comments

The Emergence of a Global Infrastructure for Mass Registration and Surveillance

The International Campaign Against Mass Surveillance has issued a report (dated April 2005): “The Emergence of a Global Infrastructure for Mass Registration and Surveillance.” It’s a chilling assessment of the current international trends towards global surveillance. Most of it you will have seen before, although it’s good to have everything in one place. I am particularly pleased that the report explicitly states that these measures do not make us any safer, but only create the illusion of security.

The global surveillance initiatives that governments have embarked upon do not make us more secure. They create only the illusion of security.

Sifting through an ocean of information with a net of bias and faulty logic, they yield outrageous numbers of false positives ­ and false negatives. The dragnet approach might make the public feel that something is being done, but the dragnet is easily circumvented by determined terrorists who are either not known to authorities, or who use identity theft to evade them.

For the statistically large number of people that will be wrongly identified or wrongly assessed as a risk under the system, the consequences can be dire.

At the same time, the democratic institutions and protections, which would be the safeguards of individuals’ personal security, are being weakened. And national sovereignty and the ability of national governments to protect citizens against the actions of other states (when they are willing) are being compromised as security functions become more and more deeply integrated.

The global surveillance dragnet diverts crucial resources and efforts away from the kind of investments that would make people safer. What is required is good information about specific threats, not crude racial profiling and useless information on the nearly 100 percent of the population that poses no threat whatsoever.

Posted on April 29, 2005 at 8:54 AMView Comments

GAO's Report on Secure Flight

Sunday I blogged about Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight program, and said that the Government Accountability Office will be issuing a report this week.

Here it is.

The AP says:

The government’s latest computerized airline passenger screening program doesn’t adequately protect travelers’ privacy, according to a congressional report that could further delay a project considered a priority after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Congress last year passed a law that said the Transportation Security Administration could spend no money to implement the program, called Secure Flight, until the Government Accountability Office reported that it met 10 conditions. Those include privacy protections, accuracy of data, oversight, cost and safeguards to ensure the system won’t be abused or accessed by unauthorized people.

The GAO found nine of the 10 conditions hadn’t yet been met and questioned whether Secure Flight would ultimately work.

Some tidbits:

  • TSA plans to include the capability for criminal checks within Secure Flight (p. 12).
  • The timetable has slipped by four months (p. 17).
  • TSA might not be able to get personally identifiable passenger data in PNRs because of costs to the industry and lack of money (p.18).
  • TSA plans to have intelligence analysts staffed within TSA to identify false positives (p.33).
  • The DHS Investment Review Board has withheld approval from the “Transportation Vetting Platform” (p.39).
  • TSA doesn’t know how much the program will cost (p.51).
  • Final privacy rule to be issued in April (p. 56).

Any of you who read the report, please post other interesting tidbits as comments.

As you all probably know, I am a member of a working group to help evaluate the privacy of Secure Flight. While I believe that a program to match airline passengers against terrorist watch lists is a colossal waste of money that isn’t going to make us any safer, I said “…assuming that we need to implement a program of matching airline passengers with names on terrorism watch lists, Secure Flight is a major improvement — in almost every way — over what is currently in place.” I still believe that, but unfortunately I am prohibited by NDA from describing the improvements. I wish someone at TSA would get himself in front of reporters and do so.

Posted on March 28, 2005 at 7:03 PMView Comments

TSA Lied About Protecting Passenger Data

According to the AP:

The Transportation Security Administration misled the public about its role in obtaining personal information about 12 million airline passengers to test a new computerized system that screens for terrorists, according to a government investigation.

The report, released Friday by Homeland Security Department Acting Inspector General Richard Skinner, said the agency misinformed individuals, the press and Congress in 2003 and 2004. It stopped short of saying TSA lied.

I’ll say it: the TSA lied.

Here’s the report. It’s worth reading. And when you read it, keep in mind that it’s written by the DHS’s own Inspector General. I presume a more independent investigator would be even more severe. Not that the report isn’t severe, mind you.

Another AP article has more details:

The report cites several occasions where TSA officials made inaccurate statements about passenger data:

  • In September 2003, the agency’s Freedom of Information Act staff received hundreds of requests from Jet Blue passengers asking if the TSA had their records. After a cursory search, the FOIA staff posted a notice on the TSA Web site that it had no JetBlue passenger data. Though the FOIA staff found JetBlue passenger records in TSA’s possession in May, the notice stayed on the Web site for more than a year.
  • In November 2003, TSA chief James Loy incorrectly told the Governmental Affairs Committee that certain kinds of passenger data were not being used to test passenger prescreening.
  • In September 2003, a technology magazine reporter asked a TSA spokesman whether real data were used to test the passenger prescreening system. The spokesman said only fake data were used; the responses “were not accurate,” the report said.

There’s much more. The report reveals that TSA ordered Delta Air Lines to turn over passenger data in February 2002 to help the Secret Service determine whether terrorists or their associates were traveling in the vicinity of the Salt Lake City Olympics.

It also reveals that TSA used passenger data from JetBlue in the spring of 2003 to figure out how to change the number of people who would be selected for more screening under the existing system.

The report says that one of the TSA’s contractors working on passenger prescreening, Lockheed Martin, used a data sample from ChoicePoint.

The report also details how outside contractors used the data for their own purposes. And that “the agency neglected to inquire whether airline passenger data used by the vendors had been returned or destroyed.” And that “TSA did not consistently apply privacy protections in the course of its involvement in airline passenger data transfers.”

This is major stuff. It shows that the TSA lied to the public about its use of personal data again and again and again.

Right now the TSA is in a bit of a bind. It is prohibited by Congress from fielding Secure Flight until it meets a series of criteria. The Government Accountability Office is expected to release a report this week that details how the TSA has not met these criteria.

I’m not sure the TSA cares. It’s already announced plans to roll out Secure Flight.

With little fanfare, the Transportation Security Administration late last month announced plans to roll out in August its highly contentious Secure Flight program. Considered by some travel industry experts a foray into operational testing, rather than a viable implementation, the program will begin, in limited release, with two airlines not yet named by TSA.

My own opinions of Secure Flight are well-known. I am participating in a Working Group to help evaluate the privacy of Secure Flight. (I’ve blogged about it here and here.) We’ve met three times, and it’s unclear if we’ll ever meet again or if we’ll ever produce the report we’re supposed to. Near as I can tell, it’s all a big mess right now.

Edited to add: The GAO report is online (PDF format).

Posted on March 27, 2005 at 12:34 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.