It was just a couple of months ago that the TSA started requiring you to use your exact name as it appears on your ID, and now, they need more. As of last Saturday, August 15, you’ll have to give your birthdate and gender as well.
Ok, so it may not be exactly on August 15. Airlines had to start implementing it on that date, and full compliance will be required in 2010. That means that every time you book a flight, you will have to provide your full name as it appears on your ID, your gender, and your birthdate. Annoying? I suppose. But they do have a reason for doing this. You can decide if it’s a good reason or not.
The reason is that it’s required for the ridiculously-named SecureFlight program to take off. We’ve talked about this before. Airlines currently handle the task of matching passengers to the watch lists. In this program, the government will be taking over that role, and they don’t want to deal with all the potential false positives.
Now with gender and birthdate, they can stop searching the 1 year old girl who just happens to be named Osama bin Laden and focus on closer matches instead. Sounds great, in theory. But we’ll see how this actually works.
What about the Dominican baseball player who forged his age as a youngster? Or what about the many refugees who may not even know the day they were born? What about the poor transgender folks who now have absolutely no idea which box to check so that the TSA doesn’t harass them further? The TSA put out a great Q&A with answers to these questions. In short, they just care that what you submit matches what’s on your government ID. So accuracy isn’t as important as conformity.
This information won’t be used at the checkpoint but rather before you ever arrive at the airport. Once you make a booking, they’ll run the data against the government watch lists to see if you need to be flagged. If not, then you’re fine. Everything will look the same at the airport as it does today. If there’s a problem, you’ll be flagged and they’ll deal with it at the ticket counter. Nothing changes at the security checkpoint.
It does appear that the TSA can share some of this information with other agencies, but supposedly only for purposes related to the watch list. Here’s the System of Records Notice (SORN) (pdf) describing that policy.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. We just have to go along with this if we want to travel. If we don’t, well, there might be more strip searches in your future. Of course, things could change now that it looks like we may be getting a new TSA administrator. I wouldn’t keep my fingers crossed.