The terrorist watch lists have been in the news a lot recently. A few of the stories: the ACLU notes that the lists likely have topped one million names (TSA’s response); a pilot is suing TSA because he’s on the list, which could cost him his job; one individual forgot his license at home and was asked his political affiliation by TSA officials attempting to verify his identity (TSA’s response); and a USA Today story revealing that TSA was keeping lists of individuals who flew without identification (TSA’s response).
Now, security guru Bruce Schneier has written a great op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the uselessness of terrorist watch lists and the Transportation Security Administration’s new identification requirement.
The TSA is tightening its photo ID rules at airport security. Previously, people with expired IDs or who claimed to have lost their IDs were subjected to secondary screening. Then the Transportation Security Administration realized that meant someone on the government’s no-fly list — the list that is supposed to keep our planes safe from terrorists — could just fly with no ID.
Now, people without ID must also answer personal questions from their credit history to ascertain their identity. The TSA will keep records of who those ID-less people are, too, in case they’re trying to probe the system.
This may seem like an improvement, except that the photo ID requirement is a joke. Anyone on the no-fly list can easily fly whenever he wants. Even worse, the whole concept of matching passenger names against a list of bad guys has negligible security value.
How to fly, even if you are on the no-fly list: Buy a ticket in some innocent person’s name. At home, before your flight, check in online and print out your boarding pass. Then, save that web page as a PDF and use Adobe Acrobat to change the name on the boarding pass to your own. Print it again. At the airport, use the fake boarding pass and your valid ID to get through security. At the gate, use the real boarding pass in the fake name to board your flight. […]
Almost all of the people stopped by the no-fly list are false positives. It catches innocents such as Ted Kennedy, whose name is similar to someone’s on the list, and Islam Yusuf (formerly Cat Stevens), who was on the list but no one knew why.
The no-fly list is a Kafkaesque nightmare for the thousands of innocent Americans who are harassed and detained every time they fly. Put on the list by unidentified government officials, they can’t get off. They can’t challenge the TSA about their status or prove their innocence. (The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided this month that no-fly passengers can sue the FBI, but that strategy hasn’t been tried yet.)