Secure Flight is a government program whereby the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) profiles and scores air travelers based on blacklists, airline reservation data, other databases, and secret criteria. It essentially requires government permission (in the form of an individualized, per-passenger, per-flight Boarding Pass Printing Result transmitted from the government to the airline) as a precondition for Americans to travel in their own country. Secure Flight is was implemented beginning in January 2009 and brought online incrementally, airline by airline. (See more details in our FAQ about Secure Flight. Secure Flight is used for domestic flights; see our separate FAQ and this presentation on the additional systems used for international flights.)
The Secure Flight program has been broadly criticized as an unnecessary and unworkable grasping overreach of power by the Department of Homeland Security. The most egregious result of this program is our unacceptable loss of freedom and liberty in the flawed attempt to further national security. Identification-based security has substantial weaknesses and does little to actually protect travelers or the country. Empowering our government to collect data on our movements, and requiring that we first obtain permission from it to travel domestically sets an extremely dangerous precedent. Secure Flight disregards our constitutional protections against the dangers of government tyranny.
Previously, airlines were given watchlists generated by the Terrorist Screening Center, and airlines checked their domestic flight manifests against them. If a passenger was on the watchlist, they were denied access to the flight and the “authorities” were called. Under Secure Flight, the flow of data reversed. Now the airlines themselves transmit information on their passengers (name, sex, date of birth, etc.) directly to the government who then checks the data against their blacklists (“watchlists”), other databases, and profiling algorithms. TSA claims that the data on those not suspected of being a threat to aviation is purged within seven days after the flight. Given their track record, it seems unlikely that we are being told the truth about what data the government collects or how long they retain it. Government logging of the domestic travel data on all Americans is a scary prospect.