On November 7th, Wayne Parry
filed a story for the Associated Press that was picked up
by several major American newspapers, as well as many local
papers in the Northeast. Under the headline: “Homeland
Security civil rights chief urges Muslim flier to register,”
the article misrepresented statements made by Daniel Sutherland
of the US Dept. of Homeland Security, and mischaracterized
an official policy of the federal government.
The AP story stated that the DHS “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
The recommendation from Mr. Sutherland’s office, however,
was that only those fliers who are often delayed by airport
security may want to fill out the voluntary TSA registration
form. The TSA offers the form to aid those who experience
frequent delays such as secondary screening due to name resemblance
with suspected security threats.
Mr. Sutherland, who has been working closely with the Muslim-American
community to bridge cultural barriers and improve communications
with Washington, is now setting out to inform citizens of
the official goals of the TSA process.
The registration form in question is the Passenger Identity
Verification Form (PIVF), issued by the Transportation Security
Administration (TSA). The TSA is the government agency that
manages security watch lists. After a citizen submits the
form, the TSA can augment their database to more quickly distinguish
between that citizen and a suspect on a watch list who may
share the same name, thus lessening the burden of delay and
Mr. Sutherland was adamant that neither he nor his office
at Homeland Security considered it necessary or appropriate
for citizens to register with the TSA unless, because of prior
experiences, they felt it would make their air travel more
convenient and enjoyable.
“When asked about Muslim air passengers who frequently
undergo secondary screening, I stated that anyone who has
concerns that they are too frequently selected for secondary
screening might choose to fill out the TSA form on the website.
I did not recommend that all Americans, or particular groups
of Americans, should fill out the form. It is simply an option
available to those individuals who believe that their name
may be confused with a name on a watchlist. Providing more
information to TSA allows us to more accurately verify the
identify of a passenger, but we respect all passengers' privacy
concerns and would in no way require any group to provide
their personal information,” Mr. Sutherland said.
Mr. Sutherland has granted several interviews since the release
of the AP story in order to circulate this clarification and
to continue building on the cooperative relationship between
Washington and the Muslim-American community. Mr. Sutherland
has visited with Muslim-American organizations and community
leaders in Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.,
and other cities.
Progress has been made. Last spring, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination
Committee voiced support and gratitude for the TSA after the
government agency issued a directive to airlines calling for
“sound judgment” when evaluating children whose
names are similar to watch-list names.