- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Infants have been stopped from boarding planes at airports throughout the United States because their names are the same as or similar to those of possible terrorists on the government’s “no-fly list.”

It sounds like a joke, but it’s not funny to parents who miss flights while scrambling to have babies’ passports and other documents faxed.

Ingrid Sanden’s 1-year-old daughter was stopped in Phoenix before boarding a flight home to Washington at Thanksgiving.

“I completely understand the war on terrorism, and I completely understand people wanting to be safe when they fly,” Mrs. Sanden said. “But focusing the target a little bit is probably a better use of resources.”

Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the government doesn’t provide enough information about the people on the lists, so innocent passengers can be caught up in the security sweep if they happen to have the same name as someone on the lists.

“There’s no oversight over the names,” ACLU lawyer Tim Sparapani said. “We know names are added hastily, and when you have a name-based system, you don’t focus on solid intelligence leads. You focus on names that are similar to those that might be suspicious.”

The Transportation Security Administration, which administers the lists that have grown markedly since the September 11 attacks, instructs airlines not to deny boarding to children under 12 — or select them for extra security checks — even if their names match those on a list.

But it happens anyway. Debby McElroy, president of the Regional Airline Association, said, “Our information indicates it happens at every major airport.”

Well-known people such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat; and David Nelson, who starred in the 1952-1966 TV sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” have been stopped at airports because their names match those on the lists.

The government has sought to improve its process for checking passengers since the September 11 attacks. The first attempt was scuttled because of fears the government would have access to too much personal information. A new version, called Secure Flight, is being crafted.

But for now, airlines still have the duty to check passengers’ names against those supplied by the government. That job has become more difficult — since the 2001 attacks, the lists have swelled from a dozen or so names to more than 100,000 names, according to people in the aviation industry who are familiar with the issue. They asked not to be identified by name because the exact number is restricted information.

The TSA has a “passenger ombudsman” who will investigate individual claims from passengers who say they are mistakenly on the lists. TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said 89 children have had their names submitted to the ombudsman. Of those, 14 are under the age of 2.

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