Report: TSA searching records of passengers before they reach airport

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is screening people before they get to the airport by looking at records in government and private databases, according to a report.

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The new screening system goes beyond the regular background check the government has conducted for years, according to the New York Times.

Travelers’ passport numbers will now be scanned, which is routine when crossing the border. Officials will also tap into other databases run by the Department of Homeland Security. 

TSA officials are also searching records like employment information and car registrations, the report said. 

The prescreening is already being employed and has been described in TSA documents, though it has not yet been publicly announced, according to the Times. 

The agency can access everything from tax identification numbers, earlier travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics, intelligence and law enforcement information. 

A TSA employee who spoke to the Times on background said the program’s main goal is to identify low-risk travelers for lighter screenings once they arrive to airport checkpoints.  

People who have never traveled outside of the U.S. won't be subject to these new procedures because they won’t have a passport number on file. 

The agency already has a prescreening process set up for frequent fliers where their fingerprints have been documented and have undergone a background check. The program allows them to pass through security quickly. 

The TSA, however, says it’s not expanding the type of information it uses to screen travelers, including any private databases. Its officials are only relying on information passengers have provided for years when they book their flights, the agency wrote in a blog post.

The blog post also noted officials are not using car registrations or employment information despite the Times’ report.  

By the end of 2014, the TSA wants to have 25 percent of travelers go through the lighter screening process where they can keep their shoes and jackets on, leave laptops in their bags, and wait in separate lines. 

Privacy advocates who spoke to the Times expressed concern over the new measures. Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is one who opposes these initiatives. 

“The average person doesn’t understand how much intelligence-driven matching is going on and how this could be accessed for other purposes,” Barnes told the newspaper. “There’s no meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability.”