COMMENTARY: Airport security finally figure out name game

Nearly six years after terrorists hijacked four airplanes, the Transportation Security Administration has proposed a simple, sensible, nonintrusive plan to screen airline travelers.

It’s about time.

The government won’t sift through passengers’ credit card purchases or travel histories to play guess-the-terrorist. Privacy advocates put the kibosh on that scheme.

Instead, TSA will take the job of comparing passenger lists to the no-fly and extra-screening lists.

Passengers will be required to give their full names when making reservations and will be asked for date of birth and gender. TSA expects to prevent 99.5 percent of false matches.

To take a real life example, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy would not be stopped repeatedly because T. Kennedy is an alias for an Irish Republican Army member.

A similar plan was proposed four years ago. It’s hard to believe it has taken this long to do something so simple.

Thousands of travelers of all ages are stopped and searched because their names resemble a name on a list.

Last year, CBS News interviewed a dozen men named “Robert Johnson” who said they’re delayed every time they fly. The Robert Johnson who bombed a Hindu temple is a 62-year-old black Trinidadian, but airline employees don’t know anything but the name.

Under the new Secure Flight plan, a TSA agent with a security clearance will have access to no-fly list members’ dates of birth and gender.

To deal with the expected 0.5 percent error rate, TSA will offer a “redress number” to passengers who have been delayed in error or a “known traveler” number to those who have passed a “terrorist security threat assessment.”

In addition, international carriers will have to send passenger lists to the government before planes take off, announced Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last week. “Now, the airlines give us their manifests after the plane has left the ground and that is too late,” Chertoff said.

Ya think?

This editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Aug. 23. It appears courtesy McClatchy-Tribune News Service.