CDC passenger database hits turbulence

The Centers for Disease Control Prevention's recent proposal to set up a new passenger database to track possible disease vectors and bioterrorism outbreaks may overlap with other databases, as well as raise privacy concerns, according to public comments submitted on the plan.

The new database, which covers both airline and cruise ship passengers, will cost the travel industry $117 million to $425 million, according to a CDC regulatory impact analysis of the new program.

Most of that expense, from $5 million to $316 million, will pay for data collection, while about $108 million will go to computer reprogramming costs for airlines, cruise ships and travel agencies, the CDC analysis said.

The numbers vary depending on which of the six scenarios CDC selects for implementation of the program, including a choice of collecting new data at the point of sale or at the point of departure.

The CDC's goal is to update regulations to reflect the potential for incoming air travelers to bring bird flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and other emerging diseases into this country.

The new proposed rule requires that passengers give emergency contact information, e-mail addresses, home addresses, names of traveling companions and return flight information, among other data. That data is sometimes collected by airlines, though it is not required on international flights.

Airline and cruise ship industries would have to collect the passenger information, maintain it electronically for at least 60 days and release it to CDC within 12 hours of a request.

The airline industry is raising concerns about overlaps and what it considers to be inconsistent technical requirements between the new CDC database and airline passenger information collected for the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection.

"The Air Transport Association proposes the deployment of a government-wide standard for airline passenger data collected and a single collection point, to reduce duplication and inconsistent technical requirements," James C. May, president of the association, testified at a Senate hearing on Dec. 12.

In addition, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other privacy advocates are concerned about the program's impact on privacy of medical records.

The new provisions also call for observing passengers for signs of illness and specify symptoms that may make people subjected to quarantine, among other measures.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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