WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government
plans to take over screening airline passengers against a "no-fly" list
of potential terrorists, a security official said on Monday, a controversial function
now performed by the airlines that has resulted in at least one lawsuit.
The government can do a better job of catching suspected terrorists if it checks passenger names against the no-fly list, rather than relying on airlines to do the screening, Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said.
Having the government screen airline passengers with the no-fly list is one of the recommendations made by the Sept. 11 Commission.
Hutchinson's comments to the Senate Commerce Committee signaled that the government plans to forge ahead with some elements of its long-delayed upgrade of the Computer Assisted Passenger Profiling System, or CAPPS II, even as other elements have been deemed too controversial.
The agency in July shelved plans to hire private contractors to check passengers' credit reports, mortgage payments and other personal information after more than a year of challenges from civil-liberties groups.
The no-fly list has come under legal challenge as well.
Seven Americans backed by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action suit in April against the Homeland Security Department and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), claiming they were wrongly placed on the list because their names are similar or identical to names on the list.
The current screening process "is not a comprehensive check for security reasons because it's an airline-based system," Hutchinson told the Senate Commerce Committee.
"That's what has to change, we recognize that and agree with that recommendation and will be taking steps to accomplish that," he said.
The no-fly list provided to airlines is often incomplete because intelligence officials are reluctant to share information with private companies and foreign countries, the Sept. 11 Commission said last month in its final report.
Bringing the process in-house would allow the government to vet passenger lists more thoroughly, commission chairman Tom Kean told the congressional committee Monday.
"If a terrorist attempts to fly, TSA, not the airlines, should be the first to know and the first one to act," said Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey.