US demands air passengers ask its
permission to fly
If you're not on the list, you're not getting on
By Wendy M. Grossman
Register" -- - Under
new rules proposed by the Transport Security Administration (TSA)
(pdf), all airline passengers would need advance permission
before flying into, through, or over the United States
regardless of citizenship or the airline's national origin.
Currently, the Advanced Passenger Information System,
operated by the Customs and Border Patrol, requires airlines to
forward a list of passenger information no later than 15 minutes
before flights from the US take off (international flights bound
for the US have until 15 minutes after take-off). Planes are
diverted if a passenger on board is on the no-fly list.
The new rules mean this information must be submitted 72
hours before departure. Only those given clearance will get a
boarding pass. The TSA estimates that 90 to 93 per cent of all
travel reservations are final by then.
The proposed rules require the following information for each
passenger: full name, sex, date of birth, and redress number
(assigned to passengers who use the Travel Redress Inquiry
Program because they have been mistakenly placed on the no-fly
list), and known traveller number (once there is a programme in
place for registering known travellers whose backgrounds have
been checked). Non-travellers entering secure areas, such as
parents escorting children, will also need clearance.
The TSA held a public hearing in Washington DC on 20
September, which heard comments from both privacy advocates and
airline industry representatives from Qantas, the
IATA, and the
American Society of Travel Agents. The privacy advocates
came from the
American Civil Liberties Union and the
Project. All were negative.
The proposals should be withdrawn entirely, argued
Hasbrouck, author of The Practical Nomad and the
leading expert on travel data privacy. "Obscured by the
euphemistic language of 'screening' is the fact that travellers
would be required to get permission before they can travel."
Hasbrouck submitted that requiring clearance in order to
travel violates the US First Amendment right of assembly, the
central claim in
Gilmore's case against the US government over the
requirement to show photo ID for domestic travel.
In addition, the TSA is required to study the impact of the
proposals on small economic entities (such as sole traders).
Finally, the TSA provides no way for individuals to tell whether
their government-issued ID is actually required by law, opening
the way for rampant identity theft.
ACLU's Barry Steinhardt quoted press reports of 500,000 to
750,000 people on the watch list (of which the no-fly list is a
subset). "If there are that many terrorists in the US, we'd all
TSA representative Kip Hawley noted that the list has been
carefully investigated and halved over the last year. "Half of
grossly bloated is still bloated," Steinhardt replied.
The airline industry representatives' objections were largely
logistical. They argued that the 60-day timeframe the TSA
proposes to allow for implementation from the publication date
of the final rules is much too short. They want a year to revamp
many IT systems, especially, as the Qantas representative said,
as no one will start until they're sure there will be no further
In addition, many were concerned about the impact on new,
convenient and cash-saving technologies, such as checking in at
home, or storing a boarding pass in a PDA.
One additional point, also raised by Hasbrouck: the data the
TSA requires will be collected by the airlines who presumably
will keep it for their own purposes – a "government-coerced
informational windfall", he called it.
The third parties who actually do much of the airline
industry's data processing, the Global Distribution Systems and
Computer Reservations Systems, were missing from the hearing. ®
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