FC: Feds will begin testing massive system to profile air travelers

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Fri Feb 01 2002 - 05:21:38 PST

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       By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
       Washington Post Staff Writer
       Friday, February 1, 2002; Page A01
       Federal aviation authorities and technology companies will soon begin
       testing a vast air security screening system designed to instantly
       pull together every passenger's travel history and living
       arrangements, plus a wealth of other personal and demographic
       The government's plan is to establish a computer network linking every
       reservation system in the United States to private and government
       databases. The network would use data-mining and predictive software
       to profile passenger activity and intuit obscure clues about potential
       threats, even before the scheduled day of flight.
       It might find, for instance, that one man used a debit card to buy
       tickets for four other men who sit in separate parts of the same plane
       -- four men who have shared addresses in the past. Or it might discern
       an array of unusual links and travel habits among passengers on
       different flights.
       Those sorts of details -- along with many other far more subtle
       patterns identified by computer programs -- would contribute to a
       threat index or score for every passenger. Passengers with higher
       scores would be singled out for additional screening by authorities.
       As described by developers, the system would be an unobtrusive network
       enabling authorities to target potential threats far more effectively
       while reducing lines at security checkpoints for most passengers.
       Critics say it would be one of the largest monitoring systems ever
       created by the government and a huge intrusion on privacy.
       Although such a system would rely on existing software and technology,
       it could be years before it is fully in place, given that enormous
       amounts of data would need to be integrated and a structure would need
       to be established for monitoring passenger profiles.
       At least one carrier, Delta Air Lines, has been working with several
       companies on a prototype. Northwest Airlines has acknowledged that it
       is talking with other airlines about a similar screening system.
       Federal authorities hope to test at least two prototypes in coming
       months or possibly sooner, according to government and industry
       sources familiar with the effort.
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