Senators Collins, Lieberman Comment on TSA’s Involvement in Obtaining Sensitive Airline Passenger Information

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman (D-CT) today commented on a new report that outlines the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) role in obtaining sensitive airline passenger information from JetBlue Airways for a Defense Department database project.

“The report includes the troubling finding that certain TSA employees acted without appropriate regard for individual privacy interests,” said Senator Collins. “I commend Nuala Kelly, the Department’s Privacy Officer, for her prompt and thorough investigation of the transfer of sensitive personal data on airline passengers.” “The Department must seek to strike the right balance between security and privacy interests,” Senator Collins said. “In this case, the TSA employees involved compromised the privacy interests of individuals without adequate justification.” “I am very troubled TSA requested, in writing, that JetBlue turn over passenger information to a defense contractor without appropriate regard for individual privacy and in defiance of the spirit of the 1974 Privacy Act,” Lieberman said. “We need to be assured that TSA, in handling airline passenger information, will be forthright and scrupulous about protecting passenger privacy. I support the recommendation for department wide privacy policy training.” Last week, the Senators sent a letter to Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, asking him to provide the Committee with copies of any written communications from TSA to JetBlue Airways related to the Army’s research project conducted by Torch Concepts, as well as an explanation of why this information might not have been previously disclosed. Today, DHS Chief Privacy Officer Nuala Kelly provided the Committee with a report on the events surrounding the JetBlue data transfer. In October 2003, the Senators wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld regarding an Army contractor’s acquisition of private passenger information from JetBlue Airways for a data mining research project. Specifically, they asked Rumsfeld to determine if the DOD followed Privacy Act regulations by, among other things, publishing a notice regarding the system of records being created by the contractor and preventing unauthorized disclosures. The DOD Inspector General’s office has been investigating the incident since last November.