Once launched, passenger prescreening program Secure Flight will solve the problems of mismatching innocent individuals to the terrorist watchlists, according to government witnesses at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security said that Secretary Chertoff has approved Secure Flight. DHS is awaiting approval from the Government Accountability Office before it can implement the passenger prescreening program. The GAO’s review will not be completed until December 10, according to the GAO’s Cathleen Berrick. Currently, the GAO is awaiting DHS estimates for costs and timelines of implementation.
“According to TSA officials, the “initial cutover” or assumption of the watch-list matching function from one or more air carriers for domestic flights is scheduled to begin in January 2009. However, as of July 2008, TSA had not developed detailed plans or time frames for assuming watch-list matching from all air carriers for domestic flights,” Berrick said (pdf).
TSA’s Kip Hawley said Secure Flight will cost the government about $1 billion to implement over 10 years, but he did not have an estimate for how much it will cost the airline industry. However, Berrick said that these numbers were not applicable for the latest iteration of Secure Flight.
In a statement (pdf) submitted for the hearing record, The Identity Project urged the Committee “to scrutinize closely the watchlists, their uses, and the processes of and reasons for the addition of names.” The Identity Project detailed the many problems associated with the watchlists. For example, “a nun, Senator Ted Kennedy, and former presidential candidate John Anderson have all been wrongly deemed suspects. Several innocent individuals have filed lawsuits in order try to stop the harassment they received when they attempt to fly commercially, including a licensed commercial pilot.”
The Identity Project also urged the Committee to investigate a recent scandal concerning the Transportation Security Administration’s creation of another database or watchlist. We explained:
there were recent reports that the Transportation Security Administration was adding the names of innocent travelers to yet another secret database merely because the people lost, forgot, or refused to show identification to TSA officers at airport security. This bears repetition: The TSA added names of travelers (whom TSA allowed to pass through security) to a secret database for the crime of not showing identification to TSA officers.
The Identity Project concluded:
Even if the watchlists are to continue to be used, they must not continue in their present form. Any watchlist that is used as a basis for restriction of civil rights should be based on judicial orders, not secret determinations by the administration.
The witnesses’ written testimony are available at the hearing page.