Last week, Matt Welch linked to a New York Times story about Mikey Hicks, an eight-year-old whose getting pulled aside for extra screening when he tries to fly, in spite of the Transportation Security Administration's assertion on its website that there are no children on its watch or no-fly lists.
The next day over at the too-cute-by-half TSA blog, official TSA blogger Bob Burns weighed in. Might keep in mind as you read that Burns is paid with your tax dollars.
It's inevitable that every several months or so, some cute kid gets their mug posted on a major news publication with a headline reading something like: "Does this look like a terrorist to you?" Anything involving kids or cats gets tons of mileage and everybody starts tweeting and retweeting that there's an 8 year old on the no fly list.
There are no children on the No Fly or Selectee lists.
What happens is the child's name is a match or similar match to an actual individual on the No Fly or Selectee Watch List.
Mikey Hicks' mother, Najlah Feanny Hicks, gave Burns a deserved dressing down in the comments (you'll need to scroll down, the comment hyperlinks on the TSA blog don't seem to work).
Dear Mr. Burns,
I am Mikey Hicks's mother, the little boy featured in the news media reports this past week. The one the TSA states in "not on a list".
Instead of reaching out to our family, you chose to belittle the process by stating:
"It's inevitable that every several months or so, some cute kid gets their mug posted on a major news publication with a headline reading something like: "Does this look like a terrorist to you?" Anything involving kids or cats gets tons of mileage and everybody starts tweeting and retweeting that there's an 8 year old on the no fly list." Would it have made a difference if we had an ugly kid compared to a "cute kid"?
It would have been far more helpful had he reached out to our family and help us formulate a solution than belittle the effort.
I am insulted and appalled that a representative from the TSA would chose to make such a juvenile and insulting statement. You could have easily left the above quote off and just shared the Redress process with everyone.
It has been made quite clear to our family from both Continental and US Airlines that our son is clearly on a TSA list and they have absolutely no power in which to remove him.
If you think it's far more helpful to belittle the process rather than just giving people the information they need, then I think the TSA has far more serious issues than any of us imagine.
I look forward to getting our son off a list he's supposedly not on.
"Blogger Bob" apparently has at least a modicum of shame—he added in an update that he wasn't referring to any specific child or family, though the timing makes it pretty clear that he was. I've known someone—though not a kid—who was regularly selected for extra screening. It's a pain in the ass. If you check bags, you're guaranteed to be screened. You can't fly standby or check in curbside. You have to plan trips around the possibility that you're going to miss flights.
The airlines will tell you the higher scrutiny lists come from TSA. They'll insist there's nothing they can do about it. All you can do is write a letter requesting a review. And now that a family whose kid's name somehow ended up on a list is getting some media attention, TSA condescendingly tells them it's the airlines' fault. As if that solves the family's problem.
Of course, given the repercussions of them screwing up, there's little incentive for the airlines to take names off the list or check to be sure people who share names with watch list suspects aren't getting needlessly hassled. They're going to err on the side of keeping the lists intact. About the only way to pressure both the airlines and TSA is to generate publicity in cases that point out the flaws in the system. Like this one.
Or, put another way, continue to make sure that "every several months or so, some cute kid gets their mug posted on a major news publication with a headline reading something like: 'Does this look like a terrorist to you?'"
That seems to be the only way they'll even pay attention, even if it's only to derisively mock the people their policies are hassling.