Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Secure Flight Q&A II

This Saturday, August 15, the second phase of Secure Flight will roll out. I blogged about it last month and explained that Secure flight will be phased in over the next few months and that you may or may not be asked for your birth date and gender.

Since then, many questions have come up. I provided the questions to the Secure Flight Office and they were kind enough to provide some answers. I’d like to publically give the Secure Flight Office kudos for being so openly willing to provide answers for the blog. They understand transparency and the benefits involved in keeping everybody informed and knowledgeable about a program.

Miscellaneous Secure Flight Questions & Answers

Q: Any word on the apparent Secure-Flight requirement that anyone who books their ticket within 72-hours of travel or changes their itinerary within 72 hours of travel (say due to a flight cancellation, weather delay, reroute, etc.) will be subject to HaraSSSSment via SSSSelectee SSSScreening?

A: Facilitating passenger air travel is a key goal of the Secure Flight program. To achieve that goal, Secure Flight was designed to be able to perform real-time watch list matching for passengers who are standing by or who have last minute flight changes.

Q: What if I don't feel like providing my birth date or I just make one up??

A: TSA requires you to provide your full name, date of birth, and gender for the purpose of watch list screening, under the authority of 49 U.S.C. section 114, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and 49 C.F.R parts 1540 and 1560. You may also provide your Redress Number, if available. Failure to provide your full name, date of birth, and gender may result in denial of transport or denial of authority to enter the boarding area.

Q: This particular "layer" isn't terribly effective. If this "layer" of security can be circumvented by anyone with a printer and a word processor, this doesn't seem to be a terribly useful "layer" ... especially looking at the amount of money being expended on this particular "layer". It might be that this money could be more effectively spent on other "layers".

A: TSA uses layers of security to ensure the security of the traveling public and the Nation's transportation system. Secure Flight’s watchlist name matching constitutes only one security layer of the many in place to protect aviation. Others include intelligence gathering and analysis, airport checkpoints, random canine team searches at airports, federal air marshals, federal flight deck officers and more security measures both visible and invisible to the public.

Each one of these layers alone is capable of stopping a terrorist attack. In combination their security value is multiplied, creating a much stronger, formidable system. A terrorist who has to overcome multiple security layers in order to carry out an attack is more likely to be pre-empted, deterred, or to fail during the attempt.

Q: What effect will the requirement to ask about sex ... What effect will the requirement to ask about sex have on transgendered persons? I can see many incredibly humiliating scenarios coming forward where someone's biological sex (appearing on their gov't issued ID) seems not to match their visible gender markers or how they'd like to be identified.

A: Under Secure Flight, passengers will be required to provide their name, gender, and date of birth when making a reservation to fly. The gender provided when making the reservation should match the gender indicated on the passenger’s government-issued identification.
Once the passenger has made the reservation, their information will be sent to Secure Flight to perform watch list matching. If the passenger is cleared, there will be no further need to provide gender information from that point forward for purposes of the Secure Flight program. While the passenger may be required to provide an ID at the security checkpoint, this process is not a part of the Secure Flight program. (See last paragraph)

In the event that the individual is deemed a potential match to the watch list, that individual will need to go through the resolution process which occurs at the airport. At the ticket counter (or in some cases at an airport kiosk), name, date of birth, and gender information are taken directly from the passenger’s government-issued ID and submitted to Secure Flight.

Please note that Secure Flight will not impact the process at the security checkpoint in any way. The security checkpoint at airports serves to ensure 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.

Q: I remember a couple of years ago, it was revealed that the airlines gave personal information about 12 million passengers to the government without their permission or knowledge. How can anyone trust TSA after that?

A: TSA developed the Secure Flight program in accordance with the widely-accepted Fair Information Practice Principles and privacy laws. The most fundamental principle is notice. Consumers should be given notice of an entity's information practices before any personal information is collected from them. TSA has issued a Final Rule, Privacy Impact Assessment, and System of Records Notice. These public notices discuss the purposes, uses, and protections for passenger data, and outline which data elements are to be collected and from whom. The public notices also require that the airlines make a privacy notice available on public Web sites and self-serve kiosks before collecting any personally identifiable information from passengers.

Q: What safeguards are there to prevent the passenger database that will be generated by SecureFlight from being used by other government agencies -- say, police departments for warrant service, or any other agency that may have interest in an individual's travel plans?

A: TSA is authorized to share information with other law enforcement agencies and organizations in certain situations. Entities with whom this information is shared are identified in the Secure Flight System of Records Notice (SORN) which includes the categories of users and the purposes of such uses. According to the Secure Flight Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA), organizations with which TSA shares information must agree to maintain reasonable physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards to appropriately protect the shared information. If you would like more information, the Secure Flight PIA provides for both the purpose of collecting information and the authorized uses for the information collected.

Q: Can I use an existing government ID that doesn’t meet current information requirements?

A: With regard to acceptable forms of ID, TSA requires that a passenger present an ID that includes their full name, gender, date of birth, and a picture. The ID provides a means by which an airline representative can verify the identity of a passenger if need be. In order to facilitate this verification process, the aforementioned items must be included on the ID.

Q: What if I just got out of prison and don’t have any ID (stolen, etc), but I have, my birth certificate, and SS card, etc?

A: TSA requires that passengers provide a government-issued photo ID if they are a potential match to the watch list. To the avoid unnecessary delays that may occur at the airport if a passenger does not have a government-issued ID that includes a photo, TSA recommends taking the necessary steps to obtain one.

Questions about Names on Boarding Passes Matching Names on ID

Q: So, would the use on the ticket of a shortened form of the first name (eg, Jim, Tom, Ed) with no middle name be a problem for the next few months?

A: TSA has built some flexibility into the processes regarding passenger name accuracy. Because Secure Flight data requirement timelines are related to booking dates, not travel dates, if you have booked a flight that uses a shorter name such as Jim, Tom or Ed, for the near future, you should not notice any changes. Other common minor 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, also should not cause a problem for the passenger. Over time, passengers should strive to obtain consistency between the name on their ID and the travel information they use for booking flights.

Q: Your blog says that in the near future your name on a boarding pass will have to match the name on your ID such as passports etc. As of now many airlines don't have a provision to enter a middle name when purchasing tickets online. So, how far away is the "near future" and what kind of coordination will be in place to make sure the airlines are on board with this?” I hope that there will not be any problems for the people who do not have their middle names on the tickets.

A: Secure Flight will be phased-in and each airline will be incorporating the necessary changes into their systems over the coming months. Passengers shouldn't be concerned if particular airlines don't ask them to provide the additional information right away; it should not impact their travel. Each airline will request this information as their capability to capture it is integrated into their individual systems.

Q: I purchased tickets last week for a trip from ORD to CUN, due to credit card issues (fraud alert went up on my card when trying to purchase the tickets) my session timed out, while on the phone w/ my credit card company I put all information back in but ended up putting one of the names in last/first. I have called the airline and they assure me it won't be an issue but of course I'm less worried about the airline and more worried about whether TSA will allow it to go through. Can you please give me any insight on what we can expect and if there is anything we can do about it now? I asked about paying to reissue the ticket correctly but the airline says it's not necessary. Thank you.

A: If you entered your name incorrectly when making the reservation, you should follow the airline’s guidance regarding correcting the mistake.

Q: My wife does not use a last name. So her name is only her first name. When she applied for her US visa, they stamped her name as "FNU Fname" on her visa. FNU is for First name Unknown and they used her first name to be her last (something about the visa office /requiring/ last name to be not empty in their database). So, my question is, how do we book her tickets going forward?? "FNY Fname" as that's the name on her visa or just Fname, the way it appears on the front page of her passport? Thanks.

A: In designing the Secure Flight process, TSA anticipated these types of issues and provided airlines with specific instructions on the submission of passenger names for individuals whose government issued ID contains only a single name. These instructions permit the airlines to accept and submit such names to Secure Flight for appropriate processing. The passenger needs only to ensure that the airline with which he/she makes a reservation to fly is aware that he has only one name.

Please note that Secure Flight does NOT require that the information on the boarding pass itself match the ID. Whether or not the information on the boarding pass matches the reservation information depends on the capabilities of each individual airline. Some airlines’ boarding passes do not currently have the ability to support names exactly as they appear on the ID.

Q: I am concerned because I've already purchased my airline tickets back in Feb. for trips in Oct. and Jan. I used my short name, which is a part of my full name, and my boarding pass cannot be changed. Will Security allow me to board my flight?

A: Secure Flight requirement timelines are related to booking dates, not travel dates. For reservations that are made prior to the dates that Secure Flight has established for data collection requirements, aircraft operators are not required to collect the required Secure Flight Passenger Data (SFPD).

Secure Flight requires that domestic aircraft operators request and collect full name as of May 15, 2009, and date of birth and gender as of August 15, 2009 for their domestic flights. For international flights, full name, date of birth, and gender must be requested and collected as of October 31, 2009. These data elements are collectively referred to as SFPD.

Q: Name change due to marriage –Reservation is changed/unchanged name from ID.

A: Under the Secure Flight program, TSA requires aircraft operators to collect a passenger's full name, date of birth, and gender. Full name is defined as the name as it appears on the identification document that the passenger plans to use when traveling. This definition applies equally to a newly married woman. If she plans to travel prior to legally changing her name on her government issued identity document she uses when traveling, she should make her reservation using the name as it appears on that document.


I would like to thank the Secure Flight Office for taking the time to provide answers to your questions. They have provided answers and information in the past for the following blog posts:

Secure Flight Update 7/15/09
Secure Flight Q&A 6/2/09
What’s In a Name 5/15/09


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