Air Travel Database

Air Travel Database

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). Written for INF 103: Computer Literacy.


Air Travel Database



The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) was developed to allow air carriers to determine which passengers are unknown or high security risks.  CAPPS takes basic identification information and runs it through "commercial data providers" (Subcommittee on Aviation, 2005, para. 3.1) to create a "risk assessment 'score' [for] each passenger: green for minimal, yellow to spark heightened security procedures, and red for those judged to pose an acute danger, who would be referred to law enforcement for possible arrest" (EPIC, 2008, para. 7).  One example of this process is CAPPS "conduct[ing] risk assessments using government databases, including classified and intelligence data, to generate a risk score" (Subcommittee on Aviation, 2005, para. 3.3).  Another example is CAPPS "us[ing] information from the passenger’s itinerary to search for certain behavioral characteristics determined by the FAA ... to indicate a higher security risk" (Subcommittee on Aviation, 2005, para. 2).

CAPPS collects several kinds of personal information, "including full name, date of birth, home address and home telephone number" (Fiorino, 2004, para. 2).  In addition, CAPPS collects "'financial and transactional data,' which could include credit card and other consumer-purchase data, housing information, communications records, health records and ... public source information such as law enforcement and legal records" (CAPPS II Data-Mining, 2003, para. 8).  The first group of data -- name, data of birth, address, and phone number -- is provided by the passenger, and the rest of the data is accessed based on those basic data.

CAPPS has the potential to seriously infringe on personal privacy.  "[T]he basic information of name, address, telephone number and date of birth could be easily obtained by a terrorist intent on assuming a less risky identity" (Subcommittee on Aviation, 2005, para. 16).  Along with the risk of damage to personal privacy from identity theft, "there is a risk that a CAPPS-II system might be deployed for the government to control access to all forms of transportation, including ships, trains, and buses, and might also encompass government buildings and public spaces" (EPIC, 2008, para. 8).  Additionally, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) "indicated ... that many private and public entities might gain access to the personal information used in the passenger screening database" (EPIC, 2008, para. 9).  The January Federal Register (2003) states that "a yellow code in a person's file could be shared with other government agencies at the federal, state and local level, with intelligence agencies such as the CIA and with foreign governments and international agencies" (cited in CAPPS II Data-Mining, 2003, para. 6).  With all of these agencies and entities having access to passengers' personal information, there is a serious risk that the information could be held against individuals when they apply for employment or for government benefits.  Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, warns that "CAPPS II threatens our liberty, but its security benefits are far from clear" (CAPPS II Data-Mining, 2003, para. 11).

Although I recognize that CAPPS II is intended to make air travel safer, and, by extension, to make America safer, I would prefer to travel without the CAPPS.  Like all rules and laws, it will work to keep law-abiding citizens in order, but it is unlikely to be an effective deterrent for those who are intent on circumventing the law.  As a traveler, my privacy is at risk from too many agencies without my clear knowledge of which agency has what information, but anyone who wants to wreak havoc on a flight can just use a false identity to get on a flight.  As a result, I actually feel less safe with CAPPS than I would feel without it.



CAPPS II Data-Mining System Will Invade Privacy and Create Government Blacklist of Americans, ACLU Warns.  (2003, February 27).  Retrieved April 6, 2010, from        privacy-and-create-government-blackli

EPIC -- Electronic Privacy Information Center.  (2008).  Retrieved April 6, 2010, from 

Fiorino, L.  (2004, June 25).  Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System to make          skies safer.  Retrieved April 6, 2010, from 

Subcommittee on Aviation Hearing on The Status Of The Computer-Assisted Passenger   Prescreening System (CAPPS II).  (2005, April 27).  Retrieved April 6, 2010, from 

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism welcome.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, technology, information, air traffic control, air traffic database

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..