Bill would create redress for some travelers

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Today's hearing

The House Homeland Security Committee unanimously approved a measure today that would require the Homeland Security Department to expand and refine its appeal and redress process for individuals who contend they have been wrongly identified as being on a terrorist watch list.

The Fair, Accurate, Secure, and Timely Redress Act of 2008 would order the department to create a comprehensive list of persons cleared of allegations of connections to terrorism that would be shared among DHS components. The so-called FAST Act would require DHS to include in its Office of Appeals and Redress representatives from the Transportation Security Administration and other DHS units.

Because the terrorist list is name-based, travelers who share names of individuals on the list have frequently been misidentified and faced difficulties when traveling. Members of Congress have expressed concerns that different components in DHS are not sufficiently sharing information about individuals who have been cleared through the redress process.

“It gives people a pathway, it puts the onus on agencies to really streamline [their] processes, to interact with each other,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor. She noted that numerous agencies have such lists, and they "are not integrated in any formal fashion.”

The American Civil Liberties Union estimated that nearly one million name records are on the Terrorist Watch List. Most of them do not belong to U.S. citizens. Lawmakers have expressed concerns about expansion of the list. According to a Government Accountability Office report released in October, the number of records on the watch list increased from 158,374 in June 2004 to 754,960 in May  2007.

TSA’s no-fly list, which lists only people suspected of being a threat to commercial aviation, is a shorter version of the Terrorist Screening Center’s national watch list. Other agencies have different versions of those lists.

Clarke said her legislation will mandate appropriate changes to the watch list framework and require greater coordination across DHS, other federal agencies and local organizations that use the watch list system.

“We’ve set, I think, a floor for what needs to be done, and they have to build to that floor,” she said.

DHS announced a plan April 28 to work with airlines to decrease the number of false positives that happen when an innocent traveler’s name matches a suspected terrorist’s name.

The legislation the committee approved today would also require federal employees handling personally identifiable information associated with the name-based watch lists to complete training, place limitations on what data can be collected from misidentified passengers and restrict how that data is shared. The legislation also would require the department to provide information to passengers regarding redress at airports where there are DHS representatives.

The committee passed the redress measure along with four other bills that the House will consider adding to its DHS authorization bill. That legislation passed the House last year but has not yet been approved by the Senate.

 

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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