William Shatner can't fly

Fans of the prime-time TV drama Boston Legal, which pits a fictional law firm of Bay State attorneys against courtroom adversaries and their own libidos, last week saw partner Denny Crane fight the Homeland Security Department to get his name off a terrorist watch list so he could board airliners.

Crane, played with histrionic verve by William Shatner, was cleared to fly after an expensive legal action against fictitious, arrogant and obtuse Transportation Security Agency officials in the TV show, which is for entertainment purposes only.

DHS this week held out a lifeline to thousands of citizens who share the Shatner character's dilemma by unveiling a consolidated process for people to correct errors in various federal watch lists.

The Traveler Redress Inquiry Program 'will provide central gateway for travel-related issues,' the department said in a press release.

'DHS TRIP was developed to provide a central gateway to address watch list misidentification issues, situations where individuals believe they have faced screening problems at immigration points of entry, or have been unfairly or incorrectly delayed, denied boarding or identified for additional screening at our nation's transportation hubs,' the department said.

Starting Feb. 20, TRIP will open a one-stop service window for people who have tangled with the department's various components that take actions affecting travelers based on the watch lists. The component agencies themselves will review the redress requests, DHS said.

'A year ago today, secretary [of state Condoleeza] Rice and I pledged to take significant steps to renew the United States' reputation as a welcoming nation to legitimate travelers while still securing our country from those who want to do us harm,' said DHS secretary Michael Chertoff via the news release.

'DHS TRIP will offer the legitimate traveler a clearly defined process through which to report travel-related discrepancies, thus improving the traveler experience overall. Ensuring that personal information is accurate and complete allows us to focus fewer resources on legitimate travelers and more resources on national security and law enforcement issues,' Chertoff said.

DHS plans to build a new database for the program, to be known as the DHS Redress and Response Records System.

DHS has started out by stating in a Federal Register notice that it plans to exempt itself from disclosure of information in the database about the people who ask for redress to those very same people, under various sections of the Privacy Act and other laws. The department cited reasons for the exemptions based on the need to protect law enforcement, intelligence, counterterrorism and confidential informant information.

The department followed up today with a rulemaking proposal stating that it expects to share the information in the new database across DHS agencies.

That proposal may well attract the attention of erstwhile applicants for redress, considering the department's unbroken string of failing grades on the government's information security report cards.

The department also plans to share the TRIP information with 'other Federal agencies, such as the Department of State and the Department of Justice, including its Terrorist Screening Center,' DHS said in its rulemaking proposal. DHS may also share the information in the system with state, local, tribal, or foreign governments as well as international agencies and private companies such as airlines, according to the notice.

That proposal may attract yet more interest from would-be redress applicants, in light of information provided by the Justice Department inspector general in a report that stated that federal databases of terrorist identities are riddled with errors that will take years to correct.

'In addition, DHS TRIP will maintain a case management system of
traveler redress requests,' according to the rulemaking proposal. 'This case management function will be utilized to track case progress, to provide metrics of redress operations, to identify areas in need of additional support, and to develop lessons learned regarding the overall DHS traveler redress process,' the notice said.

The department said it would likely maintain the records in the system for about seven years. It did not commit itself to any disclosure of how long it would take to rule on redress requests or how such rulings might be appealed. It apparently is possible that even the rulings themselves might be classified or withheld, under the information provided in the Federal Register notices.

Mr. Crane, I'm afraid you cannot board this aircraft.

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