NEWS

TSA Takes Over Matching Passengers to Watch List from Airlines

By Matthew Harwood

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will take over the responsibility of matching commercial airline passengers' names to the government's terrorism watch list, according to a final rule issued today by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

"By bringing watch list matching responsibilities in-house," the DHS statement said, "TSA can better remedy possible misidentifications when a traveler's name is similar to one found on a watch list."

Previously, commercial airlines were responsible for checking the names of its passengers prior to boarding against watch lists provided by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center. But legislation passed in 2004 made DHS responsible for assuming those responsibilities.

Under the program, known as Secure Flight, TSA "will receive passenger and certain non-traveler information, conduct watch list matching against the No Fly and Selectee portions of the Federal government's consolidated terrorist watch list, and transmit a boarding pass printing result back to aircraft operators," according to the final rule.

TSA has received a storm of criticism for innocent people's names appearing on the terrorism watch list, including Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). In April, The Washington Times reported that even federal air marshals have found their names on the terrorism watch list and have been denied boarding privileges.

The agency blamed the airlines for doing a poor job at matching names to the appropriate list. The terrorism watch list contains three categories: the "no-fly" list, where the passenger is barred from boarding the airplane; the "selectee" list, where the passenger must submit to secondary screening before boarding; and the "cleared" list, for those whose names were previously on the list but which were found to present no risk. Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported Rep. Lewis' name appeared on the "cleared" list.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff says there will be fewer mistakes with TSA running the program.

"Secure Flight is a critical tool that will further improve aviation security and fix the major customer service issue of watch list misidentifications, a frustratingly common occurrence for travelers under the existing airline-based system," he said. "We know that threats to our aviation system persist, and Secure Flight will help us better protect the traveling public while creating a more consistent passenger prescreening process, ultimately reducing the number of misidentification issues."

The program will be implemented in two phases. Early next year, TSA officials will match passenger manifests to the terrorism watch list on all domestic flights, which will be extended to all international flights by the end of that year.

Although DHS believes the government will reduce the number of mismatches, it will continue to provide redress through its Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

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