May 16 2009

Air France passenger data and “no-fly” orders

Follow-up reports have provided more details but also raised more questions about the incident last month in which the US government refused to allow an Air France flight en route from Paris to Mexico City to follow its normal route through US airspace, because the passengers included a journalist on the US “no-fly” list.  The orders from the US authorities, coming while the plane was already in flight, resulted in a lengthy detour to avoid overflying US territory, and an unscheduled refueling stop in Martinique.  (Air France’s Paris-Mexico flights used to stop in Houston, but these days they are scheduled to operate nonstop, in significant part to spare through passengers the need for US transit visas and US-VISIT processing including fingerprinting and photgraphing, now required even for foreign passengers merely transiting a US airport.)

As with previous incidents of blacklisted passengers and delayed, diverted, or canceled flights, this episode should be a reminder that the problems with the “no-fly” list are not limited to mistaken for other people on the watchlist.  The problem, in this case, is that one of the passengers actually was on the list of people administratively banned from the US, without any way of knowing why, confronting his accusers or the evidence (if any) against him,  or obtaining judicial review of their decision to deny him the right of passage by common carrier through US airspace (a right guaranteed by international treaties to which the US is a party).

Also at issue has been how, when, and through what intermediaries or data pathways US authorities learned who was on the plane, espcially since it wasn’t scheduled to touch US soil. Read More