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Alaskans challenge flight security system in court

August 18, 2005

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three Alaskans and one former state
resident sued the U.S. Transportation Security Administration
on Thursday in an effort to find out what information the
agency collected about them as part of its troubled airline
passenger screening program.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in
Anchorage, two travel agents and two public school
administrators argued that the TSA broke the law when it
secretly assembled profiles of air travelers when it tested its
system last fall.

They also said the agency should be prevented from
destroying any of the other passenger profiles it has created.

The plaintiffs, who have challenged the passenger screening
program in the past, include school officials who rely on
commercial air services to travel around the remote parts of
the state. One of them, John Davis, said he has run into
problems because his name matches one on a “no fly” list of
suspected security risks. Another, Charles Beckley, recently
retired to Montana.

“Plaintiffs believe that the creation of identity based
national security systems unwisely weakens long-standing
individual rights and the protections against governmental
abuse of power these rights provide,” the four said in their
complaint.

The TSA has been trying to develop a more reliable method
to check passengers against the “no fly” list, over the
objections of activists who say such a system would
unnecessarily compromise personal privacy.

In an effort to cut down on cases of mistaken identity, the
TSA last fall hired a contractor to combine airline flight
records with passengers’ date of birth, home addresses and
other personal information purchased from commercial data
brokers.

The TSA had said earlier that it wouldn’t use personal
information.

In July, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the
agency had violated the 1974 Privacy Act, which requires the
government to tell citizens when it collects information about
them.

The four Alaskans have since tried to find out what the TSA
knows about them, as the 1974 law allows, but the agency has
told them it doesn’t have any information on them.

“We had nothing on these four individuals, zero,” TSA
spokesman Brian Doyle said, adding that the agency only sampled
15 million passenger records out of the 60 million airplane
trips people took in June 2004.

TSA destroyed 3 million records as part of its testing
process in April but has not destroyed any since, he said.

Doyle said privacy officials within TSA and its parent
agency, the Department of Homeland Security, are now monitoring
Secure Flight to ensure that it does not run afoul of privacy
laws in the future.




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