GovExec reports on objections to the newest incarnation of an airline passenger screening program. The system, called Secure Flight, does not meet all of its requirements—including criteria which would allow passengers to appeal flight denials and fix errors—yet the Transportation Security Administration still plans to implement the program this summer.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity, said that TSA has shirked meeting Secure Flight's ten criteria. Since this is the umpteenth time TSA has attempted a passenger screening system, you'd think they'd get it right after a while. CAPPS and its iterations were torpedoed because of civil liberties concerns.
POGO blog readers may recall our entry last fall lamenting the sad state of the dubious "No-Fly" list, among other problems at TSA under former Department of Homeland Security head Tom Ridge. Although the list has snared such "threats" to the Republic as musician Cat Stevens and Senator Ted Kennedy, Osama Bin Laden was not on the list as recently as January 2004!
Perhaps one reason TSA hasn't met the criteria allowing passengers to review and fix errors on "No-Fly" lists and in passenger screening programs is because of the convoluted and ill-defined set of information controls in DHS and in the government. The information controls represent a serious threat to openness. Earlier this month, Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT) held a hearing to examine non-classified ways to keep information secret. These controls usually do not have straightforward guidelines for their use and review. One of these categories is "Sensitive Security Information," or SSI, and it is in use by TSA. The "No-Fly" list is an example of SSI.
Last summer, federal judge Charles Breyer ruled against TSA for its (ab)use of SSI, and said often SSI "is by no means sensitive security information; rather, it is common sense and widely known. Defendants have offered no justification for withholding such innocuous information." Though there may be some justification in designating some information SSI, guidelines, checks and balances need to govern its use.
Detaining passengers who pose no threat to airlines because of faulty secretive lists doesn't make us safer, it wastes the time and resources of Homeland Security. Fixing the problems in the list shouldn't be prevented by excessive secrecy.