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Airlines to Check You, Not Just Your Bags

A new government plan would look up background information on you and assign you a threat level every time you buy a airplane ticket. A nationwide computer system will check credit reports and bank account activity and compare passenger names with those on government watch lists. "This system threatens to create a permanent blacklisted underclass of Americans who cannot travel freely," says Katie Corrigan, of the American Civil Liberties Union. Delta Air Lines will try out the system at three undisclosed airports beginning in March, and a nationwide system could be in place by the end of the year.

The CAPPS II?Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System?will use databases that are already available and they promise not to profile people according to race, religion or ethnicity. "What it does is have very fast access to existing databases so we can quickly validate the person's identity," says Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Transportation Department spokesman Chet Lunner says an announcement that the background information will be stored for 50 years is inaccurate. But Jay Stanley, of the ACLU, says, "When it says in print, 50 years, we'd like to see something else in print to counter that."

CAPPS II will rate each passenger's risk potential according as green, yellow or red. Most passengers will be rated green and won't be subjected to anything more than normal checks, while yellow will get extra screening and red won't be allowed to fly. Paul Hudson, of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, says, "The whole track record of profiling is a very poor to mixed one," referring to incorrect profiles of the Unabomber and the Washington-area snipers. Nine to 11 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were flagged by the preexisting airline screening programs, but they weren't searched because airlines didn't search people who didn't check bags.

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