Earlier this year DHS and the airlines went head-to-head over who should be responsible for checking passengers’ names against the federal no-fly list. DHS said they would maintain a list of names of people that would either be subject to additional screening (“selectee”) or not be permitted to fly (“no-fly”). It did not take long for the air lines to object, claiming an undue burden on their operations, and DHS fretted over inconsistent application of the list by the private air carriers. Eventually, all agreed the situation wasn’t working and today Secretary Chertoff issued a new “rule” reversing the process.
Under the new rule, part of Secure Flight, airlines will submit encrypted flight reservation information to TSA. TSA will compare that data with a constantly maintained/updated no-fly list and selectee list. Then TSA will send the results back to the airline “if there’s a problem,” said Chertoff during a press event today. It is unclear if the airlines only hear back from TSA in the event of a “hit” on the list. It may be the case that if TSA doesn’t comment, then the air lines are clear to board the passenger. Silence equals acceptance?
The private sector fell short in carrying out baggage screening, and so we gave it back to TSA. The private sector failed to meet expectations on the no-fly lists, and so it goes back to TSA. This would seem like a clear cut victory for the airlines. They offload all the risk to TSA at the screening lanes and with checking the no-fly lists.
But this is a win for the traveling public, too. Someone once said that “government is the name we give to those things we decide to do together.” This is a classic example. It never made sense to outsource this important process to the private sector.
And then the Secretary made it interesting: Ever wonder how many names are on that watch list? Well Chertoff decided to share some details. Estimates have ranged up to 1 million names. According to the Secretary, “there are fewer than 16,000 — that’s one six — 16,000 unique individuals who are selectees in TSA’s database.” (He further clarified, “That’s 16,000. One six.”)
He went on state that most people on the list “are not even American citizens” and the vast majority of the names are for further screening (selectee status); they are not necessarily banned from flying. That number is closer to 2,500, of which approximately 10% are American citizens, according to the Secretary.