Nearly 30,000 airline passengers in the past year asked the Homeland Security Department to remove their names from terrorist watch lists, and all but about 60 were successful, Transportation Security Administration officials said.
None of the passengers listed was ever prevented from flying, but some were selected for additional screening ranging from questioning to strip searches, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials said.
“That number reflects the number of passengers that TSA has been able to provide relief to, whose names were the same or similar to those who actually appear on the no-flight or selectee list,” said Yolanda Clark, chief spokeswoman for the TSA, an agency within the Homeland Security Department.
Marcia Hofmann, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s open-government project, said the number of passengers asking to be delisted is “greater than anybody anticipated,” and shows “the watch-list process doesn’t work the way it is supposed to.”
Miss Hofmann said Jim Kennedy, TSA’s chief of staff, Tuesday disclosed the 30,000 figure for the first time when addressing a public advisory board and said 60 applicants had been denied redress.
The number of names on the no-fly list and watch lists are classified.
Miss Hofmann, who attended the Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee meeting, said the board was “pretty surprised” by the number.
“People who don’t present a threat should not have difficulty boarding planes, but clearly this isn’t the case,” she said.
High-profile passengers reportedly on the lists at one time were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy said the senator has not been targeted for secondary screening in the past year. A Young spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, is on the no-fly list and was deported last year after his London flight landed at Washington Dulles International Airport. Mr. Islam is said to have donated money to terrorist groups.
“It’s more important to focus on the purpose … to keep anyone with links or suspected links to terrorists off the aircraft,” said Miss Clark, adding that screeners process 1.8 million passengers a day.