Feds plan flight screening improvements

It may have happened to you or someone you know. You're checking in for a flight, and the woman behind the counter gives you a look of fear. She smiles, saying, "Just a moment." Then she picks up the phone to see if you are, indeed, a terrorist. The main reason for her concern is that your name popped up as being similar to or the same as the name of a possibly dangerous person, regardless of whether or not you're an infant or a member of Congress.

The government announced Thursday that a new version of the Secure Flight program, which could be implemented within six months, will help prevent cases of mistaken identity. By requiring that each person give their full name at the time they book reservations, plus provide date of birth and gender, it will make it easier to eliminate them from the watch list of possible terrorists.

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This new plan is meant to be less invasive than earlier plans, which proposed to collect commercial data about passengers such as credit card records or travel histories. Asking for basic information that will become clear once the passenger checks in anyway is an easy way to keep people's privacy intact while still cutting down on the amount of false identifications.

Six months from now, airlines operating international flights will also have to provide passenger list data before the plane departs, instead of after. This will give U.S. authorities the required time to remove questionable passengers from the plane. Currently, there is nothing that can be done once the flight is in the air. This extra time could be invaluable.

The plan is open for public discussion, and it will continue to undergo tests before it is implemented in 2008. Personally, as someone who has dealt with mistaken identity, I'll happily provide my age and gender beforehand. Just as long as it will keep the woman behind the counter from looking at me like I'm some sort of criminal.

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