As it prepares to take over the job of checking airline passengers' names against the government's Master List of Every Terrorist in the World (a task now handled by the airlines), the Transportation Security Administration has come up with an innovative method for distinguishing between people on the list and people who happen to have similar names. "To reduce the likelihood of false matches," The New York Times reports, "airlines are to ask passengers for their date of birth and sex, although providing such information will not be required." For old-fashioned women of a certain age, supplying a birth date may be touchy, but I imagine they'll be even more offended when asked to identify their gender.
The TSA also will start requiring airlines to supply passenger lists for flights originating in other countries before the flights take off. The fact that airlines currently are allowed to wait until planes are in midair to transmit this information tells you something about how much confidence our government has in its "no fly" list. So does the fact that six years after 9/11 "John Smith" is considered an adequate identifier for a suspicious character who might want to blow up a plane or fly it into a skyscraper. Leaving aside the potential for confusion with all the other John Smiths in the world (a problem no one could possibly have foreseen), there is the possibility that a determined jihadist might not travel under his real name, assuming that it appeared on the list in the first place. The government does not even take this screening business seriously enough for it to qualify as a charade.