Citizens should not have to trade civil rights for security

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

When passengers book a flight and check their bags, are they also checking their civil rights?

The government's latest action in the name of national security could be seen that way. Its new risk-detection system, called CAPPS II, assigns a ''threat level'' to everyone booking a commercial flight.

Transportation officials have been short on details about the computer prescreening system -- how the information will be gathered and how long it will be kept -- which in itself attracts concern. Ordered by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks, the system will be piloted by Delta Air Lines for three months and could be comprehensively in place by the end of the year.

The system carries out instantaneous background checks on passengers, checking credit reports and bank account activity, and compares passenger names with those on government watch lists.

A long list of law enforcement and intelligence agencies would have access to the information. ...

But authorities should have this kind of information before the passenger books a flight. When the routine buying habits of Americans become part of a national database, citizens should be concerned.

Citizen concern conceivably could translate into another disincentive for choosing to fly -- at the worst financial time in aviation history. United Airlines and US Airways are in bankruptcy; American Airlines appears headed that way. Eastern and Pan Am are already names of the past.

Conceivably, the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System could be helping to place Delta on that at-risk list.

-- Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal

March 3

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