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apr 16 2007

Prove you're not a terrorist

Today, Wired posted a story about the travelers' watch lists kept by various governmental agencies and airlines. The story highlights cases of mistaken identities between legitimate and illegitimate travelers.

The article highlights the story of Princeton professor Walter Murphy, "one of the nation's most respected constitutional law professors," who was put on a watch list--even though he is not a threat to the U.S.

Here's the good news: In February, the Department of Homeland Security set up a new webpage that allows people to "resolve possible watch list misidentification issues." But the process isn't as effective as many people would like it...

It's unnerving to be pulled aside by passport control officials, as I can say from personal experience....

My name comes up on at least one of the U.S. government watch lists. It seems that my name and birth-date are shared by someone on a watch list who is alarming to U.S. officials. Whenever I return from a trip overseas, I'm taken aside by passport control officials.

The delays can be inconvenient. My most recent visit with passport control officers lasted more than 80 minutes. Now if an 80-minute per trip delay were the price of liberty, I'd accept it quietly. But I bet that my predicament is due to a bureaucratic snafu that could be quickly resolved. And, as Wired's article points out, thousands of people appear to be wrongly identified as potential threats.

One of the travelers quoted in Wired's article says, "It was unnerving sitting in that little room even for a short period of time. You get a sense of what people who are not senators and not citizens go through."

How true. When I was pulled into a passport control office this past February at J.F.K. airport, I wasn't the only guy there. One of the other travelers was an elderly man who spoke a foreign language that none of the officials in the room spoke. One of the officials joked that they'd have to detain him indefinitely, and the others laughed. The elderly man may not have spoken English, but he knew they were laughing at him.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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