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Homeland Security fights ban on passengers’ data

WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security Department is making another push to get personal data on airline passengers in an effort to keep terrorists off flights.

The lobbying effort comes months after the House and Senate, concerned about invading privacy, gave preliminary approval to a measure that would ban the department from tapping into credit reports, court files, shopping histories and other personal information for one year.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wants Congress to scrap the pending ban so the government can make passenger information “more complete and accurate” when it compares names with those of suspected terrorists, according to department spokesman Russ Knocke.

Chertoff is likely to face a tough battle in Congress. The ban has the support of key members of both political parties, including Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a leading privacy rights advocate in Congress, said Monday that “it would be a mistake” to remove the ban. “Our privacy rights need more watchdogs, not fewer,” Leahy said. “Data banks offer powerful tools for security screening, but they also raise privacy dangers.”

Passenger names are now checked by airlines against a government no-fly list, which excludes classified information about terrorists.