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2003-09-19

Did JetBlue Airways Give the Pentagon Data on 5 Million Passengers?

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Wired.com reported that JetBlue Airways confirmed it provided 5 million passenger itineraries to a defense contractor in September 2002 for proof-of-concept testing of a Pentagon project unrelated to airline security.

The Internet magazine Wired.com is reporting that JetBlue Airways confirmed yesterday that in September 2002, it provided 5 million passenger itineraries to a defense contractor for proof-of-concept testing of a Pentagon project unrelated to airline security — with help from the Transportation Security Administration.

The contractor, Torch Concepts, then augmented that data with Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information, including income level, to develop what looks to be a study of whether passenger-profiling systems such as CAPPS II are feasible.

The study, titled "Homeland Security — Airline Passenger Risk Assessment," which JetBlue says was based on an unauthorized use of its data, was presented at a February technology conference.

The TSA says the study was for a Pentagon proof-of-concept program related to improving security on military bases.

It remains unclear how an airline passenger-screening feasibility study without any references to the military relates to an Army feasibility study.

Torch Concepts purchased matching personal records from Acxiom, one of the country’s largest data-aggregation companies.

That information included incomes, occupations, vehicle ownership information, number of children and Social Security numbers.

The company then used the data to create profiles of groups of travelers, dividing them into three specific groups: young middle-income homeowners, older upper-income homeowners and a group of passengers with anomalous records, which the presentation attributes to "erroneous entry, fraud or mischief."

Under the proposed CAPPS II system, passengers like those in Torch’s third group would likely be assigned a yellow code by the system’s algorithms, resulting in increased screening at the gate. Those whose identifying information is verified and who do not match a watch list of terrorists or wanted felons would get a green and face minimal scrutiny. Those whose names show up on the watch list would face arrest or be barred from flying.


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