Air Transport World reports that Homeland Security has taken charge of deciding who may fly and who will not. The airlines used to do this. Big Sis claims their takeover will result in fewer cases of mistaken identity, such as the CNN reporter who turned up on a watchlist after criticizing the TSA.
It’s just a changing of hands, but there’s an ominous feel to this announcement. I find it hard to believe that this will result in any improvement. Won’t it just make it easier for Big Sis to bar certain people from flying, or make their lives hell in order to fly? The watchlist process is already opaque. Could it get any worse?
US Dept. of Homeland Security stated that all passengers on flights “within or bound for the United States are now being checked against government watch lists” under implementation of the Transportation Security Administration’s “Secure Flight” program, which entails the agency prescreening a passenger’s full name, birth date and gender prior to issuance of a boarding pass.
Previously, airlines were tasked with checking names against watch lists; now, in accordance with a final rule issued by DHS in 2008 (ATW Daily News, Oct. 23, 2008), airlines are required to collect a passenger’s information at the time of reservation and provide it to TSA. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement, “Secure Flight makes air travel safer for everyone by screening every passenger against the latest intelligence before a boarding pass is issued.”
TSA Administrator John Pistole added, “The threats we face in the aviation sector are real and evolving, and we must confront them with strong and dynamic security measures. Secure Flight bolsters our efforts to be more intelligence-driven and risk-based in our approach to aviation security.”
Some 197 airlines are participating in the program, for which full implementation was required by Jan. 1. “We are pleased that [airlines and government] were able to reach this important security milestone ahead of schedule,” US Air Transport Assn. President and CEO James May said. TSA, which noted it “adheres to strict protocols to protect individual privacy” related to the passenger information provided by airlines, pointed out it has been handling the watch list checks for all domestic flights since June 22.
DHS said that “99% of passengers” will be able to receive boarding passes at home, via kiosks or airport counters just as before Secure Flight was in place. “Individuals found to match watch list parameters will be subject to secondary screening, a law enforcement interview or prohibition from boarding an aircraft, depending on the specific case,” it stated.
Pistole commented that a positive offshoot of the program will be making it less likely passengers will be wrongly confused with names on watch lists. “This will reduce, perhaps substantially, the number of people seeking redress,” he told reporters.