Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Secure Flight Q & A

Paul recently blogged about Secure Flight. Since then, the fine folks from the Secure Flight program have been monitoring the comments and have been kind enough to answer some of your questions.

So here goes…

Q: We’ve still never gotten a definitive answer on what law compels travelers to reveal all this personal information. ~ Adrian

A: The 9/11 Commission Report recommended that TSA take over watch list matching from the airlines. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004 codified this recommendation and requires DHS and TSA to assume pre-flight comparisons of airline passenger information to federal government watch lists. TSA is implementing the Secure Flight program to meet this Congressional mandate. The Secure Flight Final Rule provides the regulatory authority for the implementation of the Secure Flight program.

Q: Also, how else will this information be used? Will the airlines be allowed (or compelled) to keep all of this personal information about us? Will the TSA or other government agency be building a database of the times we fly? ~ Adrian

A: TSA collects as little personal information as possible to conduct effective watch list matching. Also, personal data is collected, used, distributed, stored, and disposed of in accordance with stringent guidelines and all applicable privacy laws and regulations. Secure Flight has published an updated Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) in conjunction with the Final Rule and System of Records Notice (SORN) published in the Federal Register, August 23, 2007 provide detailed information about the program’s privacy approach. TSA does not collect or use commercial data to conduct Secure Flight watch list matching. Data elements collected under Secure Flight will only be retained for seven days if the traveler is not a match to the No Fly or Selectee lists. For these travelers, all data will be purged from TSA systems after seven days. For travelers who are identified as a potential match, but later determined to not be an exact match to the watch list, data will be retained for seven years. Data elements for individuals identified as an exact match to a No Fly or Selectee terrorist record will be retained for law enforcement purposes for 99 years by Secure Flight.

Q: When one is mistakenly added to the Selectee or No Fly lists, how do they get off? ~ Adrian

A: If you were able to obtain a boarding pass, your name is not on the No Fly list. Redress is an opportunity for passengers who believe they have been improperly or unfairly delayed or prohibited from boarding an aircraft to seek resolution and avoid future delays. The affected passengers often have the same or a similar name to someone on the watch list. The DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) provides a one-stop shop for passengers seeking redress. Secure Flight uses the results of the redress process in its watch list matching process to help prevent future delays for misidentified passengers.

Q: How do people who do not have a government-issued photo ID deal with these rules? Getting a government-issued photo ID typically requires a birth certificate. My great grandmother’s birth certificate was lost in a court house fire decades ago, and she never had a driver’s license or passport. ~ Adrian

A: Federal regulations require that passengers present a government-issued photo ID during the check-in and screening process. If a passenger doesn’t have a government-issued ID, it is recommend they take the necessary steps to obtain one. It just makes sense to take a couple of hours to get a Government ID to avoid delay at security checkpoints while TSA confirms their identity and ensures they do not pose a threat to security.

Q: It's funny that many ticketing websites don't allow you to use your full middle name, yet the state asks for you to do it. This is nothing but a pain and more security theater. Thanks for making sure the lines get longer at security. Will you be adding staff to deal with it? Or will you continue to have too few checkpoints open at most airports? You're worse than Target! Q: Did TSA check with travel and airline web sites to give them time to update their data fields before adopting this policy? My wife went to Orbitz today to change her profile name and Orbitz only has space for a middle initial. But both her driver's license and my passport list her full name. How are we supposed to handle things like this? My wife also checked with United.com and they don't even offer a spot for a middle initial. I expect this new TSA policy has been planned for years. If so, why didn't TSA give the airlines and travel agencies time to update their records? What in the world is the hurry?

A: Secure Flight will be phased-in and each airline will be incorporating the necessary changes into their systems over the next few months. Passengers shouldn't be concerned if particular airlines or travel websites don't ask them to provide the additional information right away or if they’re not yet able to accept full name or other information required by Secure Flight; it should not impact their travel. Members of the travel industry will request this information as their capability to capture it is integrated into their individual systems. As for longer lines at airport security, Secure Flight will not impact the process at the security checkpoint in any way. At the security checkpoint, TSA strives to ensure you are who you say you are. TSA performs travel document checking to see that you, your identification, and your boarding pass match and are valid. Secure Flight, on the other hand, is a behind-the-scenes process that TSA and airlines collaborate on to compare the information you provide against government watch lists. The additional data elements that you may be asked to provide, such as date of birth and gender, serve to better differentiate you from individuals on the government watch list. Secure Flight will not impact the security checkpoint experience. While Secure Flight and travel document checking are both critical security functions, they serve different purposes at different points in the security process.

Q: My passport/passport card driver's license and credit cards differ in how they display my name (full middle name, middle initial, not indicator of middle name), so this may take some fiddling to make certain things match up for the TSA folks. One interesting thing none of those show is that actual CORRECT spelling of my name, because most US font sets do not include Slavic diacritic marks... ~ Tomáš

A: Passengers should ensure that the name used when making a reservation matches their government-issued ID used when traveling. Depending on which government ID you plan to use for a particular trip, you should provide your name as it appears on that ID for your travel. TSA has built some flexibility into the processes regarding passenger name accuracy. For the near future, small differences between the passenger’s ID and the passenger’s reservation information, such as the use of a middle initial instead of a full middle name or no middle name/initial at all, should not cause a problem for you. Over time, you should strive to obtain consistency between the name on your ID and your travel information.

A big thanks goes out to the Secure Flight program office. By the way, check out the press release about the new Ad Council campaign aimed at raising awareness of Secure Flight.

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TSA Blog Team