House overwhelmingly approves "white list" of non-terrorists

Published 5 February 2009

Congress wants DHS to create a “white list” — a database of people who are not terrorists, but are routinely flagged at airports anyway

How do you prove a negative? For example: How does one prove that he is not a terrorist? This is a problem — all considered, perhaps a welcome problem — that tens of thousands of Americans will soon face if they want to make sure they are not stopped at airports on suspicion of being terrorists.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly adopted legislation this week mandating the creation of a new kind of terrorist watchlist: a database of people who are not terrorists, but are routinely flagged at airports anyway.

The U.S. government maintains a list of about a million names — the ACLU says there are more than a million names on the list; DHS says there are fewer — of suspected terrorists. The list is crosschecked with passenger names ahead of airline boarding. David Kravets writes that the list has been plagued for years by sloppy name matches that have ensnared innocent travelers, children, prominent politicians, and government officials, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretary of education, Irish crooners, and all men named David Nelson.

Under the new plan, approved late Tuesday by a vote of 413 to 3, innocent victims of the terrorist watchlist must prove to DHS, through an undetermined appeals process, that they are not terrorists. They would then get their names put on what the legislation calls the “Comprehensive Cleared List.” The legislation is another attempt to assist wrongly listed passengers and would supersede the troubled DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, which has been criticized for being slow or unresponsive to flier complaints.

The FAST Redress Act, if approved by the Senate, requires the government to report within 240 days on its progress in implementing the new list.