Fixing the “No Fly” List and Redress Mess

120px-The_plane_in_a_truck__Russians_on_the_Caucasian_front__Summer_1916.jpgAs travelers no doubt know, the “No Fly” computer matching system routinely labels innocent individuals as terrorists. Over half of the tends of thousands of matches sent to the Terrorist Screening Center between 2003 and 2006 were misidentifications. The “No Fly” system has targeted two U.S. Senators, airplane crew members, and an eight-year old boy. These false positives stem from faulty information stored in “No Fly” databases and from the crude matching algorithms that cannot distinguish between the same or similar names. This system is over-inclusive as a matter of policy: as Ed Felten explains, we tolerate high rates of false positives to lower the rates of false negatives and the concomitant disaster accompanying the error in letting terrorists board airplanes.

At present, approximately 3,800 people a month file redress claims with the DHS Traveler and Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP), which by all accounts has not fixed the problem. Wired blogger Ryan Singel explains that some “lucky ones are given a ‘cleared letter’ and a redress number to help prove they are the terrorist the government is looking for.” Nonetheless, the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure notes that individuals who have successfully gone through the redress process “continue to experience problems.

Recent developments suggest that the redress process, and the troubled “No Fly” list, is in for some tinkering. Wired reports that the TSA has begun taking over the job of comparing airline passengers against its terrorist watchlist, relieving airlines of that duty. Under the Secure Flight program, passengers will be required to provide their date of birth and gender when booking flights. The TSA hopes that Secure Flight will reduce the number of false positives and help those who have applied to DHS TRIP for redress. But how TSA will actually do so is somewhat of a mystery as its spokeswoman Lauren Gaches has said that “TSA does not maintain the list and cannot add or remove any names.” In addition, the House recently passed the FAST Redress Act, which would set up an office within DHS to address redress claims in a “timely and fair” manner and require DHS to create a “Comprehensive Cleared List” of people who were wrongly included on the “No Fly” list. The bill, currently under consideration in the Senate, may move the ball in the right direction, providing some kind of procedural due process (though short of technological due process) and some means to clear yourself (perhaps by an official “I am not a terrorist card”).

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2 Responses

  1. It’s truly a shame that we even have a list of “people so dangerous they cannot be allowed to fly under any circumstance, yet so innocent we can’t arrest them” [Schneier]. It’s a bad strategy to build on this by gathering yet more information on innocent citizens, making exception lists to the troubled exception lists, and then require redressed innocents to carry even more papers to exercise their right to travel.

  2. Danielle Citron says:

    That is a great point. DC