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
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.