CAPPS II: Government Surveillance via Passenger Profiling


The "Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System" (CAPPS II) is a controversial program proposed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to combat terrorism and prevent another hijacking of U.S. flights.

CAPPS II would allow TSA to access personal information about you available in both government and commercial databases, and to use this information to "tag" you according to how much of a threat you appear to pose to the safety of those aboard the airplane.

How Does CAPPS II Work?

CAPPS II uses the information in government and commercial databases to assign each passenger a color-coded score.  "Green" means that you do not appear to pose a threat to safety and are free to board the plane.  "Yellow" means that you appear to pose a potential threat and must undergo further security checks before being allowed to board.  "Red" means that you are likely to pose an "imminent threat" to the physical safety of the people on the plane and will not be allowed to board the flight.

How many people will be classified as yellow or red is unclear; early reports indicated that the figure might be as high as 8 percent, but Admiral James M. Loy, Under Secretary of Transportation Security, later told the Associated Press (Wednesday, September 16, 2003) that the figure would more likely be 3-4 percent.  If you are flagged as red you may not only be denied boarding, but also undergo police questioning and possible arrest.

Why Is EFF Concerned About CAPPS II?

CAPPS II would force you to surrender more of your privacy in order to travel by air -- with little, if any, increase in security.  If TSA succeeds in implementing CAPPS II, the many personal details about you that have been collected in both government and commercial databases would be an open book to travel authorities.  How much of your private life should the government be allowed to examine before you can exercise your right to travel freely?

CAPPS II could also misidentify you as a terrorist, criminal, or other security threat requiring heightened government scrutiny.  Personal details about you, correct or not, could repeatedly trip the security wire, yet there would be no effective way for you to access your own CAPPS II file to correct the mistake.  Meanwhile, airport personnel would squander valuable time and resources on you and other CAPPS II "false positives" rather than on real terrorists. 

Worst of all, CAPPS II could come to serve as an all-purpose dragnet.  Originally, CAPPS II was meant to serve as a tool to prevent foreign terrorists from boarding flights.  Then the government decided that it would also be used to profile "domestic terrorists," employing a fuzzy definition that could apply to legitimate political activists.  Then CAPPS II was once again expanded to include screening for people wanted for violent crimes or for flouting immigration laws. 

All of this "mission creep" has taken place before CAPPS II has even been implemented.  How many more classes of people will CAPPS II target once it is installed and operational at airports across the country?  And how many other modes of travel will eventually fall under the CAPPS II purview?

(Read more about why EFF is concerned about CAPPS II.)

What Is EFF Doing About CAPPS II?

EFF strongly opposes CAPPS II and is working to fight its implementation.  In addition to submitting formal comments on CAPPS II to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), EFF is leading the call for a Congressional investigation and hearings on your travel privacy.  We're also helping you voice your concerns about the CAPPS II program through our Action Center

What Can I Do?

We urge you to join EFF as a member today, so that we can continue to challenge programs like CAPPS II that threaten your freedom and privacy.  We also encourage you to sign up at the EFF Action Center to make your voice heard on Capitol Hill.