TSA Disputes Claim That It Will Spy On Air Travelers’ Social Media, Credit Card Activities

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says language included in a draft agreement that was to allow private contractors to scour air travelers’ social media activities and credit card purchases before approving them for expedited travel under the agency’s PreCheck program was included “inadvertently.”

The TSA recently fileda request for proposal which included the draft agreement with third-party vendors the agency plans to hire to pre-screen PreCheck applicants.

Under the agreement, companies hired by TSA would plug “commercial data” into algorithms to determine whether travelers qualified as “low-risk,” and, thus, eligible for PreCheck boarding at airports.

According to the agreement, commercial data would include criminal and real estate records as well as “other publicly available information, such as directories, press reports, location data and information that individuals post on blogs and social media sites.”

The agreement would have also allowed the companies to screen applicants’ “purchase information, customer lists from registration websites, and self-reported information provided by consumers that is obtained by commercial data sources such as data brokers.”

The draft agreement caused concern among some civil liberties advocates who worried about the prospect of allowing companies and the federal government to have access to travelers’ Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as their credit card purchase history.

One cybersecurity expert had another concern — that such a move by TSA would actually create a false sense of security amid an uptick in terror threats.

But the federal agency, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, says it has no plans to allow private companies to monitor PreCheck applicants’ social media or purchase information.

“We have no intention on allowing contractors to collect this data,” a spokesman for TSA told The Daily Caller.

“The line on social media and purchase history was inadvertently included in the [request for proposal], and will be removed in an updated amendment to the solicitation.”

PreCheck allows travelers to avoid the normal — often lengthy — airport screening process which requires the removal of shoes, belts, coats, laptops and certain gels or liquids from carry-on luggage.

As part of what it is billing as an expansion effort to increase enrollment in the program, TSA hopes that private companies will more efficiently market, enroll, and pre-screen individual PreScreen applicants.

“By leveraging private-sector best practices in business operations, marketing, and algorithm optimization, TSA hopes to provide a better travel experience for an increased number of ‘trusted travelers’ while focusing our attention on unknown and potentially higher-risk passengers,” the TSA spokesman told TheDC.

The spokesman did not clarify how the references to social media and credit card activity accidentally ended up in the draft agreement. It is also unclear whether the private companies TSA hires will be allowed to access the other types of information included in the errant proposal.

One safeguard the agency implemented in its arrangements with private companies is that it has final say over what algorithms firms use in their pre-screening efforts.

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