Civil Liberties

How to Get Off A Government Watch List


Ryan Singel at Wired offers some useful advice. A sample:

The first rule for most people in getting off a watch list is to accept that you are not on a list.

Most likely, if you are being singled out at the airport for extra scrutiny, or your credit report says you might match a Treasury list, you are the victim of a bad matching algorithm or a vague watch-list entry for some other person.

If you only occasionally get an SSSS on your boarding pass, you likely aren't on a watch list—you've just been elected for random screening, or for buying a one-way ticket. (Real Americans fly roundtrip.)


If your problem is domestic- or international-travel-related, you can try the Department of Homeland Security's new online redress system, called the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, reintroduced in February. (The old one was so badly designed that Congress opened an investigation). After filling out the form with details, a stymied traveler will need to submit copies of identification documents. You can file online, or submit a version by fax, mail or e-mail.

If DHS determines your name is matching incorrectly to a watch-list entry, it may add you to a white list that gets you through airport security without the extra scrutiny.

If you're attempting to shake free of a list you are actually on, it can only be done by the agency that put you on the list in the first place.

While thinking about air travel and government, you should read James Bovard's February 2004 cover story on the Transportation Security Administration's philosophy of "Dominate. Intimidate. Control ."

NEXT: Debbie Does Malice

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  1. I don’t know why people assume that they are on some list just because they get pulled out for extra screening. I haven’t flown for a while, but last year I flew quite a bit, and I’d say I got extra screening about 1/3 to 1/4 of the time. Given the number of other people on each flight that were also being screened each time, seems like they do it a lot. I doubt I’m on any list.

    I don’t imagine this makes anything much safer, but it’s an utterly predictable reaction to 9/11.

  2. I haven’t flown in a while (because it’s become so annoying). They actually print an “SSSS” on the boarding pass, so the terrorist has advanced warning that he or she will be searched?!

  3. For some reason, reading the title made me think of: “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”.

  4. Yes, they print SSSS. If I’m traveling with my wife and one of us gets an SSSS we try to give our bags to the non-SSSS person since that makes getting through the additional screening much easier.

    At the airport I most often fly from there are about six TSA agents for four 19-seat flights a day. In order to justify their numbers they pull about half the people for additional screening even if they don’t have SSSS. You can be sure that a terrorist won’t be using one of those 19-seat planes to destroy a small house.

  5. For some reason, reading the title made me think of: “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”.

    You’re doing better than me. I read it as, “How to get off on a government watchlist.”

  6. I actually prefer secondary screening. The line is usually shorter and you get through quicker.

  7. The new TRIP site, however, is not without privacy issues. It places a tracking cookie labeled “Forsee Loyalty” in browsers of people using an Apple computer.

    Ah, they’re hunting Steve Jobs loyalists now.

  8. I’m not on the SSSSSS list every time, that seems random. I’m instead on the ‘ransack and break/steal stuff from his bag’ list.

  9. I actually prefer secondary screening. The line is usually shorter and you get through quicker.

    What airport is that? Everywhere I’ve been the dreaded SSSS means additional screening. You have to go through the same line. When you get to the front of it they pull you aside, feel you up, rummage through your bags, take swipes from several places. (And are generally hard to deal with as the IQ never rises into the triple digits) When you’re done, you get to put your close back on and repack your bags.

  10. I love the part about extra screening for those who fly one-way, as if al-Qaeda isn’t willing to spring for a round-trip ticket.

  11. If you buy your ticket the same day as the flight you’ll also get the Super Secret Silly Search, because al Queda doesn’t plan their attacks in advance.

  12. Various. Take OK City (were I live). There’s a guy behind a podium who checks your id when you go through screening. If you’re SSSS’d he sends you over to a seperate area with it’s own line. It depends on time of day and such but you usually get through very quickly.

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