Secure Flight Re-Engineering Welcomed but Watchlist Problems Remain Unaddressed

For Immediate Release

ACLU
Contact: 

Matthew Allee, (202) 675-2336;
media@aclu.org

Secure Flight Re-Engineering Welcomed but Watchlist Problems Remain Unaddressed

WASHINGTON - The
American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the Department of
Homeland Security's (DHS) improvements of the privacy protections in
its Secure Flight program; however, the ACLU detailed significant
problems that remain in the passenger prescreening program.
 

"The
Department of Homeland Security has made substantial changes to the
Secure Flight program in response to the concerns expressed by the
civil liberties community," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the
ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program. "DHS will neither use commercial
data to conduct background checks on travelers nor create a risk score
for passengers through Secure Flight. DHS also is minimizing data
collection to only necessary data elements and greatly reducing the
length of data retention by expunging information on most travelers
after seven days."
 

Though
DHS has made some positive changes in the final regulations,
significant, unanswered questions still persist for Secure Flight's
implementation. One problem is the lack of adequate redress for
individuals who are mistakenly matched to the secret government watch
lists. Many innocent Americans, including Members of Congress, nuns,
babies and other "suspicious characters," have already been wrongly
tagged by these secret lists.
 

Another
unresolved problem is that Secure Flight is predicated upon secret,
inaccurate government watch lists. These bloated lists have more than
one million names, according to a tally maintained by the ACLU based
upon the government's own reported numbers for the size of the list.
 

"The
current redress process must be completely revised," added Caroline
Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.
"Currently, individuals who are wrongly matched to the watch lists send
their documents to the redress office, but these innocent Americans
rarely have their problems resolved. DHS' Traveler Redress program has
proven to be a black hole that sucks in documents and information from
those misidentified but never emits a final resolution to help affected
travelers get off the lists and stay off the lists."
 

Timothy
Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel said, "What remains to be
seen is whether the revisions to Secure Flight will really work. We
suspect that although the government will do the vetting now, instead
of the airlines, the failure to scrub the watch lists of hundreds of
thousands of records of innocent, law-abiding passengers will result in
still far too many mistakes and burdens for those travelers whose only
crime is that their name is similar to somebody whom the government
thinks is suspicious." Sparapani reiterated, "Until we fix the watch
lists, re-engineering Secure Flight is not enough."
 

See the ACLU's comments on the original Secure Flight rules:
http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/secureflightcommentstsa200419160.pdf 

For information about the government watch lists, go to:
http://www.aclu.org/watchlist

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