TSA now handling watch list checks for all domestic flights

DHS says Secure Flight program being used for all flights inside of United States

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has finished taking over from airlines the responsibility of screening all passengers that are flying inside the United States against the government’s terrorist watch lists, as part of a multi-phase information technology program named Secure Flight.

Under the program, airlines must gather a passenger's full name, date of birth and gender when fliers make an flight reservation. TSA then uses that information to help determine if the passenger matches an entry on the no-fly or selectee watch lists.

By the end of this year the government expects all international carriers with direct flight to the United States to also begin using Secure Flight.

In a statement released June 7, the Homeland Security Department, TSA’s parent agency, billed the agency’s take over of watch list screening for U.S. domestic flights as a “major aviation security milestone.”

In the absence of Secure Flight, airlines have been responsible for checking passengers against watch lists. DHS says that Secure Flight improves security and helps prevent the misidentification of passengers with names similar to those in the government’s name-based terrorist watch lists.


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Officials have faced increased pressure to get Secure Flight in place after an unsuccessful car bombing attempt in New York City’s Times Square last month.

Faisal Shahzad, who allegedly attempted to set off the bomb, was reportedly added to the no-fly list after that incident. However, Shahzad was allowed to board an aircraft before authorities arrested him because the airline involved apparently didn’t check Shahzad against an update to the list when he purchased a ticket at the last minute. Since that incident, TSA has required airlines to check for updates to the no-fly list more frequently.

“We will not have this problem anymore” when Secure Flight is fully in place, Caryn Wagner, DHS’ undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, told a House panel last month.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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