TSA to assume responsibility for watch list matching responsibilities

Published 22 October 2008

There have been many — many, many — complaints about the accuracy and effectiveness of DHS no-fly watch list; TSA takes responsibility from individual airlines for matching names on the list with passengers

There have been many — many — complaints about the accuracy and effectiveness of DHS’s no-fly watch list (just ask to toddlers, some as young as two-year old, who were detained and frisked as suspected terrorists). Now DHS has announced the issuance of the Secure Flight Final Rule, which shifts pre-departure watch list matching responsibilities from individual aircraft operators to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and carries out a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. DHS says that by bringing watch list matching responsibilities in-house, TSA can better remedy possible misidentifications when a traveler’s name is similar to one found on a watch list.

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,” said DHS secretary Michael Chertoff. “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.”

Airlines will be required under Secure Flight to collect a passenger’s full name, date of birth, and gender when making an airline reservation. This additional information is expected to prevent most inconveniences at the airport, and will be particularly important for those individuals with names similar to those on the watch list. “Secure Flight will improve security by maintaining the confidentiality of the government’s watch list information while fully protecting passengers’ privacy and civil liberties,” said TSA administrator Kip Hawley. “Ensuring privacy has been a cornerstone of this program and TSA has developed a comprehensive privacy plan to incorporate privacy laws and practices into all areas of Secure Flight.”

TSA says it will will receive limited information for each passenger, as well as for certain non-traveling individuals, such as those escorting a minor or disabled passenger to the gate. TSA will determine whether their information matches the No-Fly or Selectee lists and will transmit results back to airlines. Data retention for the vast majority of individuals will be no more than seven days.

Secure Flight will be implemented in two phases. The program will initially assume the watch list matching responsibility for passengers on domestic flights from aircraft operators beginning early 2009. In the second stage of implementation, which is targeted to begin in late 2009, the Secure Flight program would assume, from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the international air carriers, the watch list matching function for passengers on international flights.

TSA says it expects Secure Flight dramatically to reduce the number of passengers misidentified as a match to the watch list. Still, the agency will continue to provide a robust redress process through DHS’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP), a single portal for travelers who found their name on the watch list by mistake and want to resolve possible watch list misidentification issues (DHS has a more bureaucratic language for this: “seek redress for adverse screening experiences”). Secure Flight will integrate DHS TRIP, preventing future delays for passengers who have successfully completed the redress process.