Passengers will have a way to appeal if their name turns up on the government's no-fly list, under provisions of the intelligence bill signed into law yesterday.
The law requires the Transportation Security Administration to create a system for travelers to correct inaccurate information that has landed them on the no-fly list. It also directs the Department of Homeland Security to create a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure that anti-terrorist government actions do not infringe on people's rights.
The provisions, among several airline security improvements in the bill, follow a series of embarrassing incidents in which hundreds of private citizens and some members of Congress were initially denied boarding because their names were flagged by a TSA computer security system that maintains the government's watch lists.
"People around the country are complaining about being on the list," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who has been stopped dozens of times because his name is confused with another on the TSA's secret no-fly list. Lewis has contacted the TSA to resolve the problem, but he said he still gets singled out occasionally. Lewis said he hoped the new law would help. "I thought [the situation] had improved until a few days ago," he said, when he flew from Atlanta to Florida and got snagged in the system.
The law requires the TSA to improve the watch lists, and it outlines a new schedule for developing a much-delayed computer passenger prescreening system known as Secure Flight. Congress directs the TSA to begin testing the new system by Jan. 1 and requires airlines to begin regularly turning over passenger records 180 days after the testing is complete. The law also requires that the system safeguard passengers' privacy.
It also directs the TSA to ban butane lighters in carry-on bags. Such lighters and matches are currently allowed on board, to the dismay of Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.).
The airline security provisions also direct the TSA to act on security technologies that have been available for years but have yet to become common at U.S. airports. Congress directs the agency to begin deploying more "sniffers" that can detect explosive residue on travelers' clothing, and it calls for several studies and test programs, including one to evaluate blast-resistant airline cargo containers.
Several members of Congress pushed for wider use of biometric technology, such as digital fingerprinting equipment that is already in place for foreign travelers at U.S. airports. Congress also sought broader implementation of eye-scanning machines being tested with frequent fliers at Reagan National Airport. The law calls for the TSA by April 2005 to develop a biometric standard, which could be adopted by other government agencies.
"Until TSA and Homeland Security adopt a biometric standard, almost every other agency at the federal, state and local level is left at bay," said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure's aviation subcommittee. He called it one of the most important provisions in the bill. The measure was intended to prod the TSA and the department, he said, which "have sort of dragged their feet."
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said the agency is reviewing the law.