The final rule for the nation's air passenger screening program – delayed several times over privacy concerns – is to be announced today, with the hope it will minimize the number of people mistaken for terrorists.
Once the rule is implemented early next year, the government will screen passengers against terrorist watch lists before they board planes. The new program, called Secure Flight, is supposed to validate travelers' information so there is less chance a person could be mistaken for someone else on a terrorist watch list.
Mistaken identifications have been one of the biggest inconveniences in post-9-11 air travel, and widely known for putting thousands of innocent U.S. residents through extensive searching and questioning before they were allowed to fly.
Currently, passenger screening for domestic flights is handled by the individual airlines. But those airlines do not always tap into the most up-to-date watch lists of people the intelligence agencies have determined should not be allowed to fly. Under the new program, the airlines will be responsible for collecting a passenger's full name, gender and birth date, opposed to the current practice of collecting only the passengers' name.
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“This should eliminate the vast majority of misidentifications and significantly reduce instances where travelers believe, or are even told by airlines, that they are on a watch list,” said a Homeland Security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the final rule had not been announced yet by Secretary Michael Chertoff.
The early sharing of passenger information was designed to give U.S. authorities more time to identify and remove from flights suspected terrorists like Richard Reid, who attempted to light a shoe bomb on a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001.
This is the third version of the air passenger prescreening program that became a key part of aviation security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Transportation Security Administration has a redress program for passengers who believe they were misidentified with names on the terror watch list. As of Sept. 30, there were more than 43,500 requests for redress, according to TSA.