Thousands wrongly on terror watch list
Thousands of people have been mistakenly linked to names on terror watch lists when they crossed the border, boarded commercial airliners or were stopped for traffic violations, according to a GAO report.
More than 30,000 airline passengers have asked the Transportation Security Administration to have their names cleared from the lists, the Government Accountability Office says in the report.
“Misidentifications can lead to delays, intensive questioning and searches, missed flights or denied entry at the border,” the report says. “Whether appropriate relief is being afforded these individuals is still an open question.”
In December 2003, disparate agencies with counterterrorism responsibilities consolidated dozens of watch lists of known or suspected terrorists into the new Terrorist Screening Center run by the FBI.
People are considered “misidentified” if they are matched to the database and then, upon further examination, are found not to match. They are usually misidentified because they have the same name as someone in the database.
The no-fly list given to airlines to make sure terrorists don’t board airplanes grew exponentially after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The no-fly list is part of the Terrorist Screening Center database.
Young children and well-known Americans like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), were stopped at airports because their names were the same as those on the no-fly list.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that watch lists aren’t perfect. “The watch list was the first stage of building a security net for the aviation system,” Chertoff said.
He said an agreement reached between the U.S. and the European Union would help prevent people from being misidentified.
The agreement calls for airlines to submit 34 pieces of data — including names, addresses and credit card details — about passengers flying from Europe to the United States.