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Delta joins in screening program

S.L. passengers may be part of security test

Any Delta Air Lines passenger — including those at Salt Lake City International Airport — could be targeted in a test of a controversial new government security screening program that taps into personal information.

Although press reports have suggested only three airports would participate in the 120-day trial of the program, known as the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS II, a government spokeswoman said Tuesday that's wrong.

"It has nothing to do with airports. It has to do with passenger reservation and ticket data," Heather Rosenker, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration in Washington, D.C., told the Deseret News Tuesday.

Names, addresses, telephone numbers and birth dates will be collected from Delta customers at random over the next three months, she said, and used only to make sure the computer connections between the airline and the government are working.

Once the system is up and running, all passengers on all airlines will be "authenticated" with the help of commercially available databases, including credit reports. The names of those failing that test will be run through government records, including the FBI's.

And everyone who buys an airline ticket will be secretly assigned color-coded security ratings — red, yellow or green. A green rating allows passengers to proceed through the normal security checks. Yellow means additional searches, and red keeps them off the plane.

"If you come up red, you won't be flying," Rosenker said. "It'll be dozens, if that, of people."

Exactly how the government will determine who's a likely terrorist is, of course, a secret.

A profile is being developed by a defense contractor, Lockheed-Martin, but Rosenker declined to be specific about what information will be used. "That's security stuff," she said. "We don't tell people what threats we're looking for."

The program has raised privacy concerns. Tuesday's New York Times headlined an article about it, "A Safer Sky or Welcome to Flight 1984?" And a Silicon Valley public-relations expert has started a Web site to protest Delta's participation, www.boycottdelta.com.

"When a company steps forward and collaborates by choice with this Orwellian program . . . then collaborators have to be punished," said Bill Scannell, creator of the week-old Web site.

He called the program a violation of people's privacy and said the odds are that over time, millions of passengers could end up wrongly labeled because of computer error. "It's not just wrong but plain un-American," Scannell said.

Rosenker said the boycott effort was misguided. "We're not keeping data except on people who are terrorists," she said. "Let's remember the whole point of this. It's to prevent another 9/11. Let's not get lost in anything other than that."

Delta, which Rosenker said the government recruited to run the trial, had little to say. According to a prepared statement, the airline's role in the program "will be limited to providing data to the TSA that Delta already collects from passengers as part of our normal reservations and ticketing process. Delta is not running credit or background checks on customers."

The Salt Lake airport is Delta's third-largest hub, behind Atlanta and Cincinnati, with 126 flights in and out daily. But Salt Lake airport officials weren't told whether Delta customers here would be potential participants, department of airports spokeswoman Barbara Gann said.

"This is a TSA and Delta Air Lines program," Gann said. "I can't tell you if I'll know or not."


E-mail: lisa@desnews.com