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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The "Watch List" and the "No Fly List"

Anyone who travels by airplane needs to be aware of two lists: the "Watch List" and the "No Fly List." Those on the "No Fly List" will become aware of it very soon. They will be left at the gate as their flight takes off. Those on the "Watch List" will have lesser--but recurring--problems boarding flights. Only when the extra effort needed simply to board an airplane is recognized as a recurring problem does it dawn on the traveler that perhaps he or she has been misidentified as a person that needs extra "watching." The most frustrating tip-off may be rejection by the unmanned kiosks that would otherwise provide a boarding pass and allow you to skip waiting in line for a live person. Are many people misidentified? Yes. By the government's own admission, the numbers are impressive:
About 30,000 airline passengers have discovered since last November that their names were mistakenly matched with those appearing on federal watch lists, a transportation security official said Tuesday.
Investigation by Airportbusiness An airport trade magazine called “Airport Business,’ interviewed a staff counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who said this appeared to be the first time such a large error has been admitted. "It was a novel figure to me," the attorney, Marcia Hofmann, said. "The figure shows that many more passengers than we've anticipated have encountered difficulty at airports. The watch list still has a long way to go before it does what it's supposed to do." These type of "Watch Lists" need need to be closely controlled if recent history is reflective of what happens. So-called “Watch Lists” can get out of hand, as reported by CNN over three years ago when it reported that FBI officials said they have "lost control" of an agency-created watch list of people wanted for questioning after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the list has "taken on a life of its own" after showing up on several Web sites. The CNN report goes on to report many of the people on the FBI list have been cleared of any possible connection to the 9/11 attacks.
The FBI said the list was not a list of suspects, but people whom agents wanted to talk to.
Various configurations of the FBI list have been put on the Internet the FBI and conceedes some private companies use the FBI list for background checks. Since the new airport list has 30,000 errors in it, hopefully it will not also gain a "life of its own." Does any of this mean that if a weary trial attorney gets the deluxe body and bag check at the airport, then the attorney is "on the list?" Not always. The admission was followed by this explanation:
[A]dditional screening can occur for multiple reasons [other than being on the list of names], including fitting a certain profile, flying on a one-way ticket or being selected randomly by a computer.
However, where there is a wrong there is a remedy. Anyone wrongfully placed on the list can fill out a government form in triplet and submit it to the TSA. Unfortunately, successfully submitting this notarized form and having it approved does not remove the misidentified person from the Watch List. The explanation, by TSA official Jim Kennedy continues:
[T]he people mistakenly matched to names on the watch list have now been added to a "clearance" list. That doesn't mean their names are erased from the watch list. In fact, travelers who go through the paperwork are told, Kennedy said, that "it will not quote 'remove' you from the list because the person we're still looking for is out there."
The result, according to Kennedy, is that "typically" the formerly misidentified traveler still:
[C]an't check in for flights at an unmanned kiosk and must approach the ticket counter to explain their situation and have an airline employee match their name to the clearance list
. Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Many trial attorneys are known to be short tempered.

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