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September 18, 2014

Secure Flight Needs Improved Privacy Protections and Operational Standards

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released two reports on the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Secure Flight program, which assigns a risk category to passengers which determines if individuals should be prevented from flying or if they require additional screening. The first report, "Secure Flight: TSA Should Take Additional Steps to Determine Program Effectiveness" (GAO-14-531) found that TSA checkpoint personnel have made errors in implementing the proper Secure Flight determinations when passengers get their boarding passes checked. Not only does TSA not have the proper controls to ensure this does not occur, they also do not have processes in place to determine the causes of this.

The second report, "TSA Could Take Additional Steps to Strengthen Privacy Oversight Mechanisms" (GAO-14-647) found that while TSA has implemented many privacy mechanisms, such as job training, they have not implemented a robust method to track and document key privacy issues within the program.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, released the following statement on the two reports: "During times of heightened security concerns there is a tendency to cast aside privacy concerns in favor of security. To safeguard the American public against such an overreach, it is imperative there is proper oversight of the privacy protections that DHS puts in place. I am glad that TSA has documented privacy milestones and implemented training programs – however these programs must meet government-wide standards and must particularly be attuned to the sensitivities of passengers' personally identifiable information."

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Ranking Member of the Committee's Transportation Security Subcommittee, added the following statement: "According to GAO, there is room for improvement in the Secure Flight Program as it relates to both operations and privacy. It is a critical part of our aviation security infrastructure – it determines which passengers should be screened appropriately or not permitted to board a plane at all. However, these determinations do not improve security if they are not implemented correctly in the real world. I hope TSA will follow the recommendations set forth by the GAO and implement protocols to determine why the proper screening is not occurring and to prevent it from continuing."

Link to Report (GAO-14-531)

Link to Report (GAO-14-647)

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Media Contact: Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978