Starting early next year, air travelers will have to provide their birth date and gender, as well as their full names to the airline when making flight reservations.
Domestic airlines are required to collect the additional information under a US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program called Secure Flight, which after five years of delay and controversy finally became a formal security rule last week.
The goal behind gathering the data, according to the TSA is to reduce errors and to speed up the pre-flight process of comparing passenger information against a government-maintained terror and no-fly watch lists. The requirement will also apply to non-travelers escorting disabled persons or minors to departure gates.
Secure Flight directs the TSA, which is part of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to take over the responsibility for pre-flight validations from the airline companies, which have been conducting the process for the past few years. Under the final rule issued this week, Secure Flight will go into effect 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register.
At that point, the airline will be required to start sending passenger data to the TSA via a single DHS Web portal. The TSA will compare the information with selected data in a broader government repository known as the Terrorist Screening Database and issue a "boarding pass result" back to the airline. The result will inform the airline to issue an unrestricted boarding pass, deny it or issue one with enhanced screening requirements. In "most cases," passenger data will not be stored for more than seven days, according to the TSA.
Initially, the TSA will prescreen for domestic travel only. Sometime in the second half of 2009, the agency will also take over responsibility for pre-screening of international travelers, which is currently carried out by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The Secure Flight program, previously called CAPPS II for Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, was established in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It is designed to improve domestic air-travel safety and is a critical component of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.
However almost since the beginning, CAPPS II, and later Secure Flight, have faced vigorous opposition from privacy and civil rights groups, which have called the idea unworkable and an invasion of privacy.