- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2008

A long-delayed government program designed to more accurately prescreen the names of airline passengers against terrorist watch lists is expected to begin early next year.

On Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the final rule for the program, called Secure Flight, which would validate air travelers’ information so there’s less chance a person could be mistaken for someone else on a watch list.

The program has been delayed several times because of privacy concerns.

Misidentification of passengers has been one of the biggest inconveniences in post-Sept. 11 air travel, and widely known for putting Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, a few infants and thousands of innocent U.S. residents through extensive searching and questioning before they were allowed to fly.

Currently, passenger prescreening for domestic flights is handled by the individual airlines.

But airlines do not always tap into the most up-to-date watch lists, which contain names of people who intelligence agencies have determined should not be on planes.

Under the new program, the airlines will be responsible for collecting a passenger’s full name, gender and birth date, as opposed to the current practice of only collecting names.

“We know that threats to our aviation system persist,” Mr. Chertoff said. “Secure Flight will help us better protect the traveling public while creating a more consistent passenger-prescreening process, ultimately reducing the number of misidentification issues.”

The early sharing of passenger information was designed to give U.S. authorities more time to identify and remove from flights suspected terrorists like Richard Reid, who tried to ignite a shoe bomb on a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001.

This is the third version of the air-passenger prescreening program that became a key part of aviation security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since Oct. 1, 2001, the federal government has spent $240 million on the program, according to budget statistics, and $82 million is available for 2009.

Before that, the Federal Aviation Administration oversaw the first iteration, which began in 1998, according to 9/11 commission research. The 1998 program required air carriers to use a computer-assisted passenger-prescreening program to single out passengers who needed additional screening.

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