The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will begin testing a new passenger screening programme in November, and could begin phasing in the government-run procedure early in 2005, writes Darren Shannon.

Secure Flight replaces the previously planned Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System (CAPPS II), which has been attacked by legislators and the US public for violating privacy laws.

Under the new programme, the TSA will take full control of passenger screening, ending the airline industry's involvement in vetting travellers. This mirrors a policy advocated by the TSA during recent US Senate hearing into recommendations proposed by President George Bush's 9/11 Commission.

Secure Flight will only check passenger name records (PNR) against a terrorist "watch list". The current CAPPS I system, which is administered by airlines uses the same principle, but the watch list is limited because of TSA security concerns.

The 9/11 Commission has noted that this procedure failed to stop the 2001 attacks because most suspected terrorist names were withheld from the airlines.

This is the only aspect of CAPPS II to survive, as, according to TSA administrator David Stone, "Secure Flight differs from earlier proposed systems by focusing efforts on looking for known or suspected terrorists, rather than using it for other law- enforcement purposes".

However, screening procedures once considered fundamental to CAPPS II but rejected because of privacy and civil liberties concerns are being tested separately, to "determine if they add value", adds Stone. These include using "commercial available information" such as credit card records, to "help to more accurately verify the identity of individuals".

Source: Flight International