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Birthdays free namesakes

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The Department of Homeland Security has finally taken pity on all those people who share a name with someone on the FBI's "terror watch list."

Today, as reported by the watch list-obsessed USA Today, the DHS told US airlines they can go a little easier on people who suffer from the so-called "Ted Kennedy problem." Senator Kennedy was temporarily barred from boarding several flights in 2004 because his name resembled the alias of a suspected terrorist.

If it wants, an airline can now clear up cases of mistaken identity simply by recording passenger birth dates. Previously, namesakes couldn't avoid heavy duty screening unless they petitioned the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for redress, and TSA isn't exactly quick with its responses.

"Airlines have the option of providing this opportunity for passengers to give their date of birth to help us validate who the individual is," TSA spokesman Nico Melendez told us. "This will allow the to avoid certain inconveniences."

In February, the TSA rolled out a new website where Americans can complain that the FBI's list has mistakenly delayed their plans, and after just eight months, complaints arrived from more than 16,000 annoyed citizens.

According to the TSA, 97 per cent of those who complained weren't actually on the list. They merely shared a name with someone on it. As of November, the TSA needed an average of 44 days to officially resolve these cases of mistaken identity - i.e. put namesakes on a second list that says they're not on the first one.

Thankfully, the DHS has taken a step to alleviate this backlog. The only question is why it took them so long. Does it really take more than a year to realize that namesakes can be freed if airlines simply record their birth dates?

Melendez described the birth date solution as a stop gap as the TSA readies its Secure Flight program, a new passenger screening system for all airlines. "The challenge up to this point is that the passenger screening system is implemented differently from airline to airline," he said. "Secure Flight will give us a common system across the board, facilitated by the TSA."

So, the TSA was going to capture birth dates on its own, with Secure Flight. But it was slow with Secure Flight too.

Now, of course, we must wait again - for the airlines to actually roll this idea out. ®

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