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The Transportation Security Administration bought and is storing details about U.S. citizens who flew on commercial airlines in June 2004 as part of a test of a terrorist screening program called Secure Flight, the documents indicate.
"TSA is losing the public's trust," said Tim Sparapani, a privacy lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. "They have a repeated, consistent problem with doing one thing and then saying they did another."
Secure Flight and its predecessor, CAPPS II, have been criticized for secretly obtaining personal information about airline passengers and failing to do enough to protect it.
The TSA and several airlines were embarrassed last year when it was revealed that airlines gave personal information on 12 million passengers to the government without the travelers' permission or knowledge. An inspector general's report found TSA misled the public about its role in acquiring the data.
According to the documents, which will be published in the Federal Register this week, the TSA gave the data, known as passenger name records, to its contractor, Virginia-based EagleForce Associates. Passenger name records can include a variety of information, including name, address, phone number and credit card information.
EagleForce then compared the passenger name records with commercial data from three contractors that included first, last and middle names, home address and phone number, birth date, name suffix, second surname, spouse first name, gender, second address, third address, ZIP code and latitude and longitude of address. The reason for the comparison was to find out if the passenger name record data was accurate, according to the TSA.
The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits the government from keeping a secret database. It also requires agencies to make official statements on the impact of their record keeping on privacy.