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CAPP II, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening

June 15, 2009 Lowell Bradford Blog, News & Articles 0 Comments

The Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II (CAPPS II) was the upgraded version of CAPPS I. It was an airport security program that was devised by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its purpose was to enhance the security procedures that were used in CAPPS I. Furthermore, CAPPS II attempted to create a sophisticated method of profiling airline passengers by using security camera systems and grading each passenger’s risk level through color codes. Its watch-list was maintained by The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA).


CAPPS I came into existence in the 1990s, after the occurrences of ghastly incidents like the TWA Flight 800 explosion and bombings at the Centennial Olympic Park. Its implementation served as a measure to counter terrorism acts such as these. However, the need for a revised counter-terrorism pre-screening system was truly felt right after the 9/11 incident in 2001. Surprisingly, several of the aeroplane hijackers were cleared by the security camera systems of CAPPS I. Therefore, CAPPS II was introduced a couple of years later to plug the loopholes of the former version.


The processes of CAPPS II included photographing the passengers with surveillance camera systems; registering their names, addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth; verifying those names and personal details with government and commercial databases; and assigning a secret color code for each passenger. A green color code reflected no threat, yellow meant that a passenger had to go through some additional screening, and red meant that the passenger was a threat, and he or she should visit the law enforcement offices instead of boarding the plane. For passengers who were marked as non-threatening, CAPPS II erased all their data at the end of the trip. The commercial database sources included names like Acxiom and Choice Point, which had database containing about 20 billion records


CAPPS II was short-lived, and it was pulled out in the year 2004 owing to its complexity and inaccuracy. A report was prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office which pointed out the vulnerabilities of the system. Additionally, watchdog groups such as ACLU, EPIC, and Reclaim Democracy strongly opposed the use of the CAPPS II system. These groups stated that the CAPPS II system could be manipulated by terrorists. The system was supposed to remove potential threats such as suspected terrorists, but in reality, it failed miserably, as it grounded innocent American civilians on a number of occasions. When the CAPPS II system grounded Senator Ted Kennedy, it caught the attention of the media and the government. Within a short time, the system was terminated.


CAPP II’s inability to evaluate passengers correctly finally prompted the TSA to discontinue it in mid 2004. It was soon announced by the TSA that a successor program by the name of Secure Flight will supplant CAPPS II. However, Secure Flight has been blocked by the government as well. Once this new pre-screening system passes a specific set of tests for privacy protection and security, it will be implemented on the passengers.

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