WASHINGTON – The federal agency in charge of aviation security collected extensive personal information about airline passengers even though Congress forbade it and officials said they wouldn’t do it, according to documents obtained Monday by the Associated Press.
The Transportation Security Administration bought and is storing details about U.S. citizens who flew on commercial airlines in June 2004 as part of a test of a terrorist screening program called Secure Flight, the documents indicate.
“TSA is losing the public’s trust,” said Tim Sparapani, a privacy lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. “They have a repeated, consistent problem with doing one thing and then saying they did another.”
Secure Flight and its predecessor, CAPPS II, have been criticized for secretly obtaining personal information about airline passengers and failing to do enough to protect it.
The TSA and several airlines were embarrassed last year when it was revealed that airlines gave personal information on 12 million passengers to the government without the travelers’ permission or knowledge. An inspector general’s report found TSA misled the public about its role in acquiring the data.
Class-action lawsuits have been brought against airlines and government contractors for sharing passenger data. As a result, airlines agreed to turn over passenger data for testing only after they were ordered to do so by the government in November.
According to the documents, to be published in the Federal Register this week, the TSA gave the data, known as passenger name records, to its contractor, Virginia-based EagleForce Associates. Passenger name records can include a variety of information, including name, address, phone number and credit card information.
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