WASHINGTON - Sarah Zapolsky's 1-year-old son had better get used to being looked
at as a possible terrorist every time his family gets on a plane.
That's because experts and officials say there's no way the toddler's
name will be taken off the federal no-fly list - even after he and another tot
made headlines for being stopped as potential terror threats.
"His name is the same or similar to someone on the no-fly list,"
said Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration,
explaining that even though a baby is not a threat, someone out there with the
same name is, and the name must be kept on the list.
The best Zapolsky and her husband can hope for is a letter that tells
airport screeners that the little boy is harmless, and that he's been added
to a "cleared" list.
But, it turns out, that, too, will be impossible for the 1-year-old.
Before the federal agency will issue such a letter, the person on the list
must fill out and have notarized an application that asks for things like height,
weight and three forms of government ID.
"Um, excuse me, but he's growing," said Zapolsky. She also noted
her son lacks documents like a military ID, voter's registration or a driver's
Davis admitted it will be hard for the boy to get cleared, but said there is
still room in the system for common sense if screeners see a passenger is obviously
younger than 12. "Ultimately, the air carriers are instructed not to deny
boarding to children who are under 12, even if their names are on the no-fly
list," she said.
Zapolsky's son has a different - and more common - last name than his mom,
which the Daily News is withholding to protect his privacy. The News called
dozens of people across the country with the same name and found that of three
who flew frequently, all were snagged by the no-fly list.
One federal worker in Nevada said he's on the list even though he's
got a federal security clearance. An accountant in Texas said he's encountered
an airline that will cancel a flight if he's on it. He gets stopped 90% of the
time, even though he's been told his name isn't exactly the same.
"My middle initial is C, and I have a [suffix] of junior and it doesn't
even make a difference," the 52-year-old said.
Critics of the system say such a broad name-based net catches too many fish
and wastes effort that should be directed at real threats.
"We get at least 50 major inquiries a month, and they are all people on
the list for silly reasons," said Tim Sparapani, legal counsel for the
American Civil Liberties Union. "We have a lot of J. Millers that show
up, a lot of B. Smiths."
Davis said that a new system under development called Secure Flight would do
a better job screening out "false positives" such as Zapolsky's son,
making it easier for the family to board planes. But extra personal information
will be required before boarding.
"This is guilty until proven innocent," said Zapolsky, who
is reluctant to give screeners even more personal information about her son.
"If we're not free to travel without giving a blood sample, then we're