Decades ago the world first began to witness acts of air piracy – primarily hijackings by terrorists who threatened the lives of passengers as a way to force air crews to divert to hostile locations. Authorities have known since then that checking passenger behaviors and backgrounds is an important key in defeating the terrorists.
Recently, the TSA has begun the initial launch of Secure Flight which gives the agency the ability to mitigate risk in a significant way. Secure Flight is a milestone achievement and the credit goes to policy makers and information technology engineers and scientists at DHS, TSA, the airlines and its numerous contractors. It was a long time coming, but that should not deter anyone from applauding the achievement.
One key reason for the tragedy of 9/11 was that the terrorists defeated both the intelligence and physical screening methods then in place. A key lesson we learned is the need to know more about individuals who book a ticket on a passenger airline. This is addressed in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) which is the law that created TSA. It called for the enhancement of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). This was considered the intelligence side of the aviation screening program.
The Federal government’s first response was too ambitious – CAPPS II. That program ran up against endless legal issues, seemingly intractable IT challenges and an overall complexity that eventually caused it it to collapse.
To the great credit of DHS, TSA and the airlines, no one gave up and the ultimate result is Secure Flight. Beginning now, we will be able to check the identities of potential terrorists if they attempt to fly on our airlines. We will have the capability to intercept and detain them as necessary. Secure Flight leverages the greatly enhanced intelligence capability of the Terrorist Screening Center built in the aftermath of 9/11.
Let’s keep in mind that this is now without its challenges. The legal issues regarding privacy had to be overcome. Allowing the Federal government receive personal data individuals provide at the time of booking is not a small issue. How the data is to be processed, stored and eventually purged are complex issues that needed to be resolved.
In the IT world, every airline has developed it own reservation system based on its own needs. Since 9/11, the carriers have developed their own methods to conduct terrorist watch list checks as required by TSA. So meshing these systems together with the TSA’s IT infrastructure is a pretty amazing accomplishment.
With the advent of Secure Flight, we witness an important new tool in the fight to protect our commercial aviation system while at the same time we have reduced costs to the private sector and defeated battalions of lawyers who would gladly have prevented Secure Flight from coming on line.
Job well done.