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CAPPS II snafu

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The US government has scrapped a controversial $102m airline passenger screening system in favor of an as of yet undefined new system.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge gave word this week of his department's flip-flop on the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening Systems, or CAPPS II, project. CAPPS II was once meant to identify potential evil-doers by snooping through credit card, phone and car registration databases and deciding whether or not a traveller was who he claimed to be. As comforting as this kind of tracking system sounds, it did manage to worry puffy civil liberties freedom fighters. And, in fact, the system proved too difficult to build even with a massive budget at the Homeland Security Department's disposal.

On Wednesday, Ridge joked about a dagger going through the heart of CAPPS II, but his agency scrambled to put a better spin on things by Thursday. The Homeland defenders are now saying they expect to roll out a new automated screening system. They just don't know what this system will look like, how much it will cost or when it will be ready.

The Feds are basically trying to update old identification systems. They want to look out for customers buying airline tickets in cash, making last minute purchases and with dubious records. Now, however, they might have to resort to a system that simply checks names against a record of potential terrorism suspects. And that kind of systems seems hopelessly easy to fool.

The waste of $102m could not come at a worse time either. The General Accounting Office recently issued a scathing report on the Defense Department's failed use of funding. It's also disconcerting to note that Homeland Security has not managed to secure this part of the Homeland nearly three years after the 9-11 attack, especially given the nature of the attack.

Looks like the pants dropping will continue. ®

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