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More airlines gave out passenger data

More airlines than had been disclosed before gave personal information about passengers to the government, the acting head of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

More airlines than previously disclosed gave personal data on passengers to the government for testing a computerized background-check project, acting Transportation Security Administration chief David Stone said Wednesday.

Passenger data was obtained from at least two computerized reservation systems, Sabre and Galileo International, and from four more airlines than previously revealed: Delta, Continental Airlines, America West Airlines and Frontier Airlines, Stone said.

His testimony came during a confirmation hearing by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on his nomination as TSA administrator.

The data — known as passenger name records, or PNR — include credit card numbers, travel reservation information, address, telephone number and meal requests, which can indicate a passenger’s religion or ethnicity.

In all but one case, the data was intended for testing an anti-terrorism project that would use personal information to assign threat levels to all airline passengers.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, criticized TSA for being slow to reveal the full extent of the transfer of passenger data to the government. She asked for a detailed account of what TSA did with the passenger data it collected.

“In the fight against terrorism, we have to be careful not to trample on our values,” Collins said.

Calls for investigation
Privacy advocates, meanwhile, promptly called for a congressional investigation.

“There was a massive amount of passenger data secretly provided to the government, and in many cases, the disclosures also violated privacy assurances the airlines had given to their passengers,” said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy group.

The program for screening passengers, called the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS II, has been delayed because U.S. airlines refused to turn over passenger data for testing after revelations that some had already done so.

Without passengers’ knowledge
Northwest, JetBlue and American have been criticized for handing over such data — without the knowledge of their passengers — to the government or its vendors in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Stone’s testimony revealed:

  • Delta Air Lines in February 2002 gave passenger information to the Secret Service to prepare for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
  • In May 2002, American Airlines agreed to TSA’s request to authorize its vendor Airline Automation Inc. to turn over passenger data to four companies working with the government to demonstrate the feasibility of assigning risk to passengers, flights, airlines and airports. Some of those companies independently obtained passenger data from airlines and reservation systems including Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, America West Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Galileo International.
  • In May 2003 Sabre gave a computer disk with an unknown amount of information to the TSA to test parts of the CAPPS II system.
  • In spring 2003, JetBlue gave data to TSA “in order to determine whether changes could be made to the CAPPS system that would address what appeared to be a disproportionate impact of that system on passengers of certain airlines,” Stone said.