Green, yellow, terrorist

The last time I remember following a color-coded system for transportation, I was in elementary school. Instead of having to remember bus numbers, our buses were assigned colors so children wouldn’t get on the wrong bus. The government is adopting yet another color-coding policy, this time a procedure that will separate passengers from “terrorists.”

The Transportation Security Administration believes the proposal for Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS II, is the best way to ensure the terrorists haven’t won. If approved, CAPPS II would require passengers to provide their name, home address, telephone number and date of birth when making reservations.

Sounds harmless, until those names are put into a database so that a passenger’s identity can be verified with governmental watch lists and assessed for risk. A color and score will be assigned to passengers based on their risk levels.

Though a color-coding scheme that simply assigns the three colors found in traffic lights to passengers, the system is vague, much like the colors that are issued when the United States receives a terror alert.

The CAPPS II colors work like this: Green is assigned to passengers who require minimum screening; yellow requires more screening than minimum screening; and red indicates the passenger should be turned over to local law authorities. The system, however, has provided no definition to distinguish minimum screening from “more screening than the minimum screening.”

So, I guess a “green” passenger would have to take off one shoe while a “yellow” passenger would have to take off both. Or maybe a “green” passenger is exempt from metal detectors, but “yellow” passengers aren’t. Maybe the government should have thought of these details before proposing such a plan.

Why did Homeland Security, and now the Transportation Security Administration, think assigning colors to what could be potential security risks would be easier for people to immediately identify in a serious situation when the meanings behind the colors have been given broad definitions?

Even Wal-Mart has a color-coding system more sophisticated than the government’s. At least the shopping center is able to determine what the difference is between the code for a fire or an aisle spill. But when it comes to labeling innocent passengers from actual terrorists, the U.S. government colors with its eyes closed.

Placing a list of names in a database for passenger screening with federal terrorist watch lists is not the answer for airline security.

In an article featured last month in Newsweek, the chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, Kevin Mitchell, stated that a passenger’s name could be overlapping with a similar name in another state or country that could cause your color to be incorrectly assigned.

Also, let’s not forget what happened when Database Technologies was hired by then Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to remove the names of convicted Florida felons from the voter polls. According to BBC television reporter Greg Palast, the DBT compiled a list of 58,000 names later to find it was 95 percent inaccurate.

A list of 8,000 names provided felons in Texas and the company even admitted the system wasn’t completely accurate. Not to mention, Database Technologies wasn’t fully protective of preventing felons from voting when 452 felons slipped through the system.

Passengers who are wrongly color-coded could miss their flights, even if they purchased tickets months or weeks in advance since passengers are screened at the airport.

Let’s say it is absolutely necessary for some passengers to get to their destination that day. They are already penalized once for missing their flight but must buy another ticket, which of course makes them look suspicious for buying a same-day flight ticket.

If the government isn’t going to take into consideration the technology flaws that could further set back airline security procedures, then why should passengers be the ones who are penalized?

Grace Agostin is a senior majoring in mass communications.