The unprecedented measure would see each visitor to the United States score on a scale of three colours - green, yellow and red - based on personal details, shortly after making their flight reservation. 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Mark Hatfield described it as an identity checking system. He was quick to counter criticism that the measure attacked personal liberty. 

Tests of the system, called CAPPS-2, will begin in the next two months and continue through summer at one or several US airports, said Hatfield. The project would not go ahead until protocols that guarantee respect for privacy are in place. 

Criticism

Individual rights advocates were not convinced by the assurances. Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project said CAPPS-II was "illusory security on the cheap." 

"Instead of zeroing in on suspects based on real evidence of wrongdoing, it sweeps every airline passenger through a dragnet," he said. 

The programme, developed at the request of Congress, is one of the security measures either being enforced or currently under study since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. 

Under the colour-coded risk scale, red would bar the passenger from boarding, yellow would trigger additional scrutiny and green would trigger standard treatment by airport security. 

Classification

US Border Security officer taking 
fingerprints of a foreign national

At the moment of making a reservation, travellers will be asked for name, address, telephone number and date of birth, as well as travel itinerary, said Hatfield, at which point the system kicks in. 

Someone who classifies as red- risk would not be allowed to fly and would be questioned by law enforcement officials, notably the FBI. 

Someone classified yellow or green would be asked for their
details again the next time they bought a ticket, since details of the previous experience would not be held in the computer. 

In the event that a traveller is thought to have the same
characteristics as a "terror suspect", "you will not be able to
immediately board the flight, you are going to be talking to law enforcement and you will be given an immediate opportunity to establish an error, if you believe one exists," Hatfield said. 

The airline ticket will not be reimbursed by US authorities,
however, he said. 

Agreement with EU

"We are seeking in the coming weeks to make the determination of how we will get it  (information on passengers) for domestic flights. We are still in negotiations with the US airlines."

Mark Hatfield,
Spokesman for Transportation Security Administration  

The spokesman mentioned a mid-December agreement reached with the European Union, aiming to gather information on passengers boarding planes bound for the United States from European airports. 

The accord, still to be ratified by the European Parliament, will allow US authorities to use 34 characteristics relating to each European passenger arriving in the United States, aimed at improving controls and ensuring they are not linked to "terrorist organisations". 

"We are seeking in the coming weeks to make the determination of how we will get it  (information on passengers) for domestic flights," Hatfield said, adding: "We are still in negotiations with the US airlines."