We’ll Have to Check, Sir

Pity the innocent air traveler whose name repeatedly registers as a match on the government’s mammoth terrorist watch list. One major airline registers 9,000 false hits every day, according to Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security. These travelers and thousands more must routinely step aside and provide firmer proof of identity.

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Go to The Board » Instead of trying to fix the troubled list, Mr. Chertoff has proposed that victimized travelers and the airlines fix the problem. He has suggested that these travelers volunteer to let airlines keep a record of their date of birth, so their bona fides can be more easily verified.

Considering the dimension of the no-fly snafus, this is hardly a cure-all. Each airline is free to decide whether to take part, and whether it wants to pay to alter its computer systems. Harried fliers would also have to file with each airline they patronize.

Meanwhile, the terrorist watch list keeps growing, exceeding 900,000 and adding up to 20,000 a month, by some estimates. Lately, even federal air marshals assigned to flight security complain they have been barred at check-in when their names triggered false positives, according to The Washington Times. Congress is having to pass a law to finally expunge the hallowed name of Nelson Mandela from the list.

The problem was clear four years ago when one of the most familiar names and faces in the land — Senator Edward Kennedy — complained of being repeatedly flagged. A redress program was started at the Transportation Security Administration, and an estimated 15,000 have managed to get their names off the list.

The process is frustratingly slow, and the list of those cleared is not shared among federal agencies, leaving customs and border protection bureaucracies free to recycle erroneous challenges, according to Representative Yvette Clarke of New York. Her measure to streamline the redress process, and ensure that the correct information is distributed across the government, is under consideration in the House. It deserves swift approval as an act of travelers’ mercy and homeland security.


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