WASHINGTON, DC: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working with reporters to correct misinformation about its newest antiterrorism airline-passenger screening program, Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), which has been met with criticism since the announcement of its development at the end of February.
"There hasn't been a single reporter who has called, fully understanding (CAPPS II)," said Robert Johnson, director of communications and public information for the TSA, referring to concerns about the program and speculation that it will infringe on passengers' civil liberties. "Unfortunately, some people have written without calling. We've had to go into correction mode in some cases."
The primary effort put forth by Johnson and his team of TSA communications staffers is to explain to journalists that CAPPS II will not infringe on the privacy rights of airline passengers, nor will the system run credit checks or ask passengers to provide their Social Security numbers. The TSA is also emphasizing that this program was developed to protect passenger safety.
Civil-liberties groups have likened the new screening system to the TSA's much-criticized "no fly list," which prompted the ACLU to sue the FBI and the TSA on behalf of wrongly detained passengers.
Others compare CAPPS II to surveillance techniques used in the George Orwell novel 1984.
According to Johnson, the fruits of his labor have been generating more accurate stories and editorials suggesting that there is some value to CAPPS II's approach.
"I've spent (as long as) an hour with a journalist, and we think that's time well spent," said Johnson. "We have to be methodical. We have spent the better part of six weeks trying to correct things, one reporter at a time. We're going to share as much information as possible, except for information that terrorists can use."
The as-yet unfinished program, developed by Lockheed Martin for the TSA, will confirm passenger identity, as well as identify passengers that may be associated with a terrorist group. According to Johnson, the airline will take passengers' names, addresses, dates of birth, and phone numbers, and then run a computer search to find out if they are rooted in their communities. The information will generate color-coded indicators on boarding passes, which will tell security personnel which passengers require extra security attention.