New Privacy Rules from Obama Arrive Amid Airline Fights
The Transportation Security Administration announced new guidelines on Thursday for how airlines can collect and use passenger data, which could lead to a more personalized travel experience.
The guidelines, part of President Obama’s directive last February that federal agencies better protect consumer privacy while using big data, require airlines to disclose what information they collect and how they use it. They also have to tell travelers if their data has been compromised in a security breach.
The guidelines are not legally binding and are limited to data collected by airlines like flight itineraries, credit card numbers and shopping preferences. The T.S.A., which is not bound by the rules, collects its own data on travel through the PreCheck program, which lets certain vetted passengers go through airport security without taking off shoes or removing laptops from cases.
The new guidelines come as some lawmakers are pushing for airlines to share more information with the government to thwart potential terrorists. Last month, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and vice chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called on Congress to require airlines to give passenger records only to the Department of Homeland Security so that it could be analyzed by A.C.T., an automated screening system that uses algorithms to analyze travel patterns and
The blog post, titled “New Privacy Rules from Obama Arrive Amid Airline Fights,” was written by Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University and an expert on privacy issues. It appeared on the blog of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research.
Professor Cate’s post included a link to a White House fact sheet that explained how the new rules would work. The White House said they were designed to prevent airlines from sharing passenger information with the government, but Professor Cate said the restrictions did not go far enough.
“The new rules are intended to ensure that passengers’ personal information is protected more effectively,” he wrote in his post. “But these measures don’t address one of the most serious privacy problems facing Americans: The airline industry is still allowed to collect and use passenger data from a variety of sources, including phone calls, e-mails and other communications.”
The Obama administration on Wednesday proposed new privacy rules for the Transportation Security Administration, including limiting the length of time that some passenger records are retained and giving passengers greater ability to challenge searches of their laptops and other personal devices.
The new rules come as airlines, privacy groups and the TSA continue to clash over how far the agency can go in searching passengers, their bags and their electronics.
The rules published Wednesday address how long T.S.A. may retain passenger information like names, addresses and phone numbers. Currently, the agency keeps that information for at least five years after a flight; under the new rule, it would be limited to 180 days. The proposal also includes a new process for notifying people when their information has been compromised or improperly accessed by a T.S.A. employee.
The proposal also includes specific language about how T.S.A. agents should treat laptops, phones and other electronic devices during security screenings, saying that such searches should be conducted “in a manner that minimizes any impact on the functionality of such devices.”
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday signed into law new privacy protections for airline passengers, but not before the Transportation Security Administration, which will be responsible for enforcing them, and the airlines had a fight over who would pay for any regulations that restrict their ability to sell passenger information to marketers.
The privacy restrictions, which grew out of complaints from some air travelers that they were being treated rudely by security screeners, are part of a bill to reauthorize the T.S.A.’s operations through 2014. The Senate passed the bill on Thursday by unanimous consent; the House approved it last month by voice vote.
The bill includes provisions intended to prevent airport-security officers from groping passengers in ways that many travelers find offensive. One provision requires that all pat-down searches be performed in public view and by officers of the same sex as a traveler’s gender identity. A second provision says that no one can be detained because he or she refused to submit to such a search or other screening procedures unless there is probable cause to believe terrorism is involved.
The new law also prohibits airlines from selling personal data about travelers collected at airport checkpoints without their explicit consent and makes it illegal for anyone to take photographs or videos of screeners as they perform their duties without their permission.
When the Transportation Security Administration, or the T.S.A., announced a new set of rules last month that would allow airline passengers to carry small knives and other items onto planes, it was not exactly a glorious moment for the agency.
The T.S.A., which has been around since 2001, has struggled to find a balance between public safety and passenger convenience. Its officers have been accused of groping travelers, stealing from their luggage and misusing their power. And its screening methods have often seemed haphazard or ineffective.
Now the Obama administration is trying to turn things around at the agency by, among other things, putting more emphasis on privacy rights for air travelers. The first evidence of that came last week when the Department of Homeland Security proposed new rules for the T.S.A.’s Secure Flight program, which helps prevent terrorists from boarding airplanes. The rules spell out how long the agency can hold on to passenger data after each flight and what it can do with that information while it is in its possession.*
On Monday, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum that requires federal agencies like the T.S.A., as well as companies under contract with them, to develop a code of conduct for employees who handle private information about American citizens.*
WASHINGTON — In the latest flare-up over privacy rights and airline security, the Obama administration has issued new rules that would make it more difficult for travelers to avoid being listed in a vast federal database of airline passengers with suspected ties to terrorism.
The move comes as the government is facing lawsuits challenging its authority to collect passenger information from private airlines. Privacy advocates say the rules will require airlines to turn over such information without good reason, and that there are no limits on how long the government can keep it.
“We do not want to become a country where every citizen is viewed as a potential terrorist until proven otherwise,” said Catherine Crump, an American Civil Liberties Union staff lawyer who has challenged the use of national security letters by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in gathering passenger data. “Travelers have no way to know if they are on the list, nor do they have a way to get off.”
The White House said Mr. Obama would announce a set of principles to guide the federal government’s use of data that it collects on people in the United States. Privacy advocates say such a policy would help address new concerns over how far the government has gone to fight terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.
The timing of Mr. Obama’s announcement could not be better for an administration struggling to contain its latest public relations fiasco: the T.S.A.’s security screening methods, which have become a flash point for civil liberties groups and passengers alike. The American Civil Liberties Union sued this week over the T.S.A.’s body scanners, saying they violate the Constitution by collecting images of people undressed in violation of their rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.