Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP

TSA Testifies on Watch Lists; ACLU Protests


Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator Kip Hawley recently testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on TSA’s use of subsets of the terror watch list and airlines’ misidentifying passengers on these watch lists, a topic that has been in the news recently as a CNN reporter and others have been sent repeatedly to secondary inspections following their alleged erroneous inclusion in the watch lists and inability to have their names removed.

The TSA noted that “misidentification hassles at the airline ticket counter is consistently among the most frustrating complaints of the traveling public.” The TSA announced a solution that requires action by the airlines. The TSA said that each airline now has the flexibility to create a system to verify and store securely a passenger’s date of birth, to clear up watch list misidentifications. By voluntarily providing this data to an airline and verifying that information at the ticket counter, the TSA said, travelers who were previously inconvenienced on every trip will now be able to check in online or at remote kiosks.

As an incentive for the airlines to take action, the TSA announced plans to collect data from air carriers to determine how many cleared passengers are being forced to the ticket counters to verify their identification before being issued a boarding pass. The TSA said it is also actively exploring enforcement action against air carriers who tell passengers inaccurately that they are watch-listed. The TSA reportedly is also threatening to fine airlines up to $25,000 when they erroneously tell passengers they are on a terrorist watch list.

The TSA stated that fewer than 50,000 individuals are on the no-fly and selectee lists. Individuals on the no-fly and selectee lists are identified by law enforcement and intelligence entities as legitimate threats to transportation who require either additional screening or are prohibited from boarding an aircraft. The watch lists also include any aliases or variations an individual may use, which drives up the overall number of names on a list.

David Stempler of the Air Travelers Association was not impressed by the TSA’s blaming airlines for the problems: “Airline security should always have been a government responsibility, and deflecting criticism to the airlines is inappropriate.” The TSA is expected to assume responsibility for checking names against the lists early next year.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, which calculates that there are over one million names on the list, called on the House Homeland Security Committee to exercise vigorous oversight of the Department of Homeland Security programs that “endanger U.S. citizens’ privacy and civil liberties without increasing security.” Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said, “Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other ‘suspicious characters,’ with names like Robert Johnson and Gary Smith, have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape.”

Complaints can be filed online.

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