There was a time, not that many years ago, when an airline journey was a relatively simple affair. You made reservations, showed up at the airport not that much ahead of when your plane was supposed to take off, strolled through a metal detector, and went on your way.
Then came the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the world changedincluding airline travel.
Security now takes central stage in the check-in process. New screening equipment has been added, security lines have become long, security procedures have become more complicated, and travel has become a much-more difficult affair.
Those changes are the obvious ones. Behind the scenes, there has also been much change, as well as some turmoil. And there has been a national debate over the rights of privacy versus the need to protect against future terrorist attacks.
The federal government has been working on a comprehensive passenger-screening system to better identify would-be terrorists. But privacy advocates are warning that many of these systems pose dangers to the very rights the government is supposed to be upholding.
A particularly controversial proposal was called Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPSII). It would have rated every airline passenger according to his level of risk by tapping into commercial and government databases, including those run by the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency (NSA).
Critics contended that there were many problems with the system. They claimed there was no way for people to know whether they were being rated fairly because they would not have access to the databases and data sources used to rate them. They said that if they were rated as a high risk, they could in essence be banned from airline travel, possibly forever, with no recourse to appeal. And they worried that the government would launch new surveillance programs to gather increasing amounts of information about people, so it could feed the CAPSSII system with as much data as possible.
Proponents of the program countered that there would be strict controls so people's privacy would not be invaded and that the system would be error-free. And they say it would help keep America safe well into the future.
The CAPSSII system, as of this writing, has not been put into effect, although there is a chance that itor a similar programwill eventually be used.