Sutherland’s Statement Clarified

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 watch list.”
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 confusion.
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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.