Is your name on the no-fly list?

July 22, 2010 4:00:18 PM PDT
ABC11 recently went along with NC State professor Steve Washburn as he travelled from Raleigh Durham International Airport.

"We'll see what kind of luck we have at the kiosk this time," he said.

Washburn is used to extra hassles, extra frustration, and extra security screening because his name is on the government no-fly list.

He can't print his boarding passes at home and usually has to go to the ticket counter to explain who he is.

That's an endless pain because Washburn travels the world sharing his research.

In Costa Rica a few months ago, he was searched entering the terminal, again in the gate area, and again in the jetway.

"I went about five or six steps, and there waiting for me was another person who did a physical pat down after all this screening that I had just gone through," he recalled.

For the past two years, he's been subjected to extra scrutiny nearly every time he flies.

Washburn is not a terrorist and there's no reason for airlines to be worried about him. The problem is he shares the same name with another Steve Washburn.

The second Steve Washburn is a U.S. Air Force veteran who converted to Islam. He was told he couldn't get on a plane in Ireland when he tried to fly home to New Mexico.

"When I went to board the plane, they told me, 'I'm sorry, we can't let you get on the plane because you're on the U.S. no-fly terrorist watch list,' which is the first time I had heard of it," he said.

To get home, Washburn number two had to buy a new ticket from Dublin to Frankfort, then to Brazil, on to Peru, then to Mexico City, and finally, a flight to Juarez, Mexico so he could drive across the border.

"You feel abused. You get angry, because you're thinking, this is injustice," he said.

Washburn number two is now one of 10 people on the no-fly list who are now suing the government, claiming the way it secretly builds and maintains the no-fly list is unconstitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Washburn.

"It's fundamentally un-American to have this secret process where unnamed and faceless bureaucrats put people onto secret lists without any standards that we know of, and there's absolutely no way to get off," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner.

Back in the Triangle, our first Steve Washburn has found himself swept into the controversy.

"I would think that there would be other means of identification other than just the name itself," he said.

The federal bureaucracy that handles airline security - the Transportation Security Administration - told ABC11 that under its new Secure Flight Program, Washburn can add personal information to his airline reservation and that might eliminate some of the extra screening at airports.

Washburn also qualifies for the Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. He can submit this document and get a special number - so he isn't misidentified at the airport.

"I think it'll probably get better, if I go through and get my name cleared off the official system," he said.

But until that happens, Washburn is going to continue allowing plenty of extra time to get through RDU.

"You always wonder about how many times will I do this before they realize it's me and not him, and so that was a little bit curious and frustrating," he said.

Washburn is concerned about encountering confusion over the no-fly list at foreign airports - and is worried he could end up getting stranded somewhere.

The government says 99 percent of Americans can print their boarding pass at home and are cleared to fly through the Secure Flight program.

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