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ADC Legal Updates: DHS Clarifies AP Watch List Article

Washington, DC, November 9, 2005 — The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has clarified a November 7, 2005, Associated Press news story entitled, “Homeland Security rights chief urges Muslim fliers to register” (See below). The story may be misunderstood by some to mean that DHS is asking individuals of a certain religion or ethnicity to register with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). According to the story, this procedure is used in order to reduce the problem with “false positive” identification of individuals who may have names similar to those on the TSA “watch list.”
Yesterday, Daniel Sutherland, Director of the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said, “If a particular individual is having serious trouble in getting cleared to fly, and believes that problem comes from a mistaken match to an aviation watch list, then he or she should consider making use of the redress process that TSA offers. Obviously, we would not encourage large numbers of people of any particular race, ethnicity or religion to register with the government prior to traveling. That would be nonsense. The TSA redress process is one that we would hope a few hundred people take advantage of – those who have serious problems getting cleared to fly. This is not a process that we would encourage thousands or tens of thousands or millions of people to take advantage of – it is not meant for that and would be nonsensical to encourage that. We know that this process has worked in many situations, and therefore we encourage people of all races, ethnicities and religions to consider using it if they ving serious trouble with air travel, ” Sutherland added, “Indeed, ADC has issued a press release with the same information I offered the reporters.”
ADC emphasizes that the TSA redress process (See ADC’s website at https://www.adc.org/index.php?id=2624) is a reactive option that some individuals may elect to use in order to reduce the problem of “false positive” identification. Individuals should by no means attempt to use this option as a pro-active step prior to traveling.
ASSOCIATED PRESS:
Homeland Security rights chief urges Muslim fliers to register
By WAYNE PARRY
Associated Press Writer
7 November 2005
Associated Press Newswires
WASHINGTON (AP) – The head of civil rights for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is urging Muslim air travelers to register with the federal government before flying to reduce the chances they might be stopped at an airport because their name is on or similar to names on an anti-terrorism watch list.
But Daniel Sutherland admits that doing so won’t completely eliminate the chance that a Muslim traveler will be singled out for closer scrutiny before or after flying.
Speaking recently at a seminar on Homeland Security sponsored by the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, Sutherland said the department wants to improve its relations with Muslims and Arab-Americans.
“We need to listen to their concerns,” he said. “We need to build a level of commitment and trust that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, not an `us-versus-them’ perception in the community.”
One way to do that is by having Muslim and Arab-American travelers complete a form on the Web page of the Transportation Security Administration, a division of Homeland Security responsible for protecting mass transit systems including airports.
The two-page “Passenger Identity Verification Form” asks for personal information including name, address, birth date, height, weight, eye and hair color, and requires copies of three of the following documents: passport, visa, birth certificate, naturalization certificate, voter registration card, government identity card or military identity card.
Once completed, the homeland security department shares the information with airlines, who then are able to compare it against security lists that might otherwise red-flag a passenger.
The goal is to distinguish a traveler from people whose names — or close variations thereof — appear on federal no-fly lists compiled by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It does not remove a name from the list, but seeks to differentiate between a person of interest and someone who has no connection with them.
Abdin Aly, a Little Falls accountant, filled out and mailed in the form after being detained for two hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. He had briefly left the Frankfurt, Germany airport to have dinner with a relative during a stopover from a flight home from Egypt. He said authorities did not say whether his name appeared on a watch list.
“To do an inspection, there’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. “But to hold me and my wife for two hours and deny me the right to make a phone call or even use the bathroom is just wrong,” he said. “It’s an insult. In 35 years here, I have never violated any law.”
Ironically, not long after the airport incident this summer, Aly said he was mailed an invitation to a fund-raiser in Washington from the Republican National Committee, who had identified him as a successful businessman.
“You want me to go to this, after you treat me this way?” he asked.
Sutherland acknowledged that checkpoint scrutiny can alienate the very Muslim leaders his department seeks to cultivate as allies.
“There will be peaks and valleys to this relationship,” he said. “We are a law enforcement agency. There will be times when we arrest, detain and deport Arab-American or Muslim people. But we’ve got to work to build our relationship. There are lots of pressures looking to pull us apart; we’ve got to push past that.”
In April, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee praised the Transportation Security Administration for directing airlines to “use sound judgment” when evaluating young children whose names are the same as or similar to watch-list names.