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Computer Privacy Annoyances by Dan Tynan

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ON THE ROAD

Grounded By No-Fly Lists

The Annoyance:

I’m a frequent flyer, and just about every time I go through a security checkpoint some beefy guard pulls me to the side, waves a wand over my entire body, and interrogates me before I can get on the plane. Am I on some sort of government no-fly list? How do I get off?

The Fix:

You may well be, though good luck finding out. Since 1990 the feds have maintained a list of passengers deemed a threat to civil aviation. In fact, there are at least two separate lists: one contains “selectees” who must undergo extra scrutiny before boarding; the other contains the names of those who are prevented from flying at all. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 vastly increased the scope of such lists—from a handful of names to more than 20,000, according to an October 2004 report in the Washington Post.

In April 2004, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of six individuals who believe they were unfairly singled out, either because their name is similar to one on the list or because of their political activity. For example, attorney David C. Nelson, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, says he’s been stopped more than 40 times. (Former TV star David Nelson of “Ozzie and Harriet” fame also reports being stopped at airports.) In documents released last October 2004, Transportation Security Administration officials admit to massive problems with “false positives” resulting from similar sounding names. More than 2000 passengers have filed complaints with ...

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