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Red flag: TSA's new screening plan won't fly

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The Transportation Security Administration's latest flailing at airline terror risks has earned immediate and justified outrage. The color-coded CAPPS II proposal, a system of segregating passengers into presumed threat categories, is Big Brother played by Barney Fife.

The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System would "score" each passenger and assign that passenger a color code -- green (standard screening), yellow (search and question) and red (barred from flying).

Possibilities for abuse are legion. Derogatory colors could be slapped arbitrarily on dissidents, government critics and even on political activists to restrict their travels. Nothing more than a computer glitch -- or misreading of a foreign-sounding name, as in the Air France flight cancellations -- could brand an innocent flier passenger non gratis.

Yes, some of the information gleaned will be from that already available in commercial databases. But what are the safeguards against error? Will the public have access to the color-status database? Will the media, or employers? Can one find out what color she or he is? Can you challenge the status you've been assigned?

Perhaps the proposal's worst failing is the false sense of security it may offer air travelers. Identities can be stolen, identification doctored, records altered. A committed terrorist would slip through such a system, while innocent passengers are delayed, inconvenienced, stereotyped and stigmatized. All while inspectors remain unable to scan all baggage for explosives and contraband continues to get past airport screeners.