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A Case Study On Terrorist Database Screening Information Technology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Technology
Wordcount: 2131 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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When the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, or TSC, was created following the 9-11 attacks, the goal was to consolidate information about suspected terrorists from different government agencies into a single list. This was intended to enhance communication and decrease processing times. Subsets of the TSC watch list, such as the “No Fly” list, were added to reduce the wait for airplane passengers by screening only those who may be prevented from air travel. However, several problems have prompted questions regarding the quality and accuracy of the consolidated list.

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For a security measure reliant on identification of dangerous individuals, a lack of information regarding the names of suspects is a key issue. Because the list may include duplicated name entries or terrorist aliases, obvious non-terrorists such as former Senator Ted Kennedy have been subject to travel delays because of names that resemble those of suspected terrorists. According to the case study, a single name on the list may have as many as 50 duplicates. This contributes to the over 750,000 records that make up the TSC watch list. A major cause of name similarity or duplication is the process to be included on the list. Various government agencies perform sweeps of traveler information, utilizing misspellings and variations of terrorist names. This often contributes to inclusion of innocent individuals who do not belong on the list.

Once an individual is on the list, there is no quick fix to be removed. According to the case study, over 24,000 requests to be removed from the list have been made, including requests from innocent travelers. Only 54 percent have been resolved due to an extensive processing time of 40 days. The Department of Homeland Security developed the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program to help innocents remove themselves from the list and avoid the extensive screening and questioning that results from being a traveler noted on the TSC watch list.

Privacy and profiling have also been concerns surrounding the creation and further development of the watch list. To improve the screening process and reduce instances of erroneous inclusion, more detailed and personal data would have to be gathered about individuals on the list. This information may cause sensitivity and safety issues and contribute to existing criticism of the list because of its potential ability to promote discrimination. Some individuals on the list attest that they are marked on the list as suspected terrorists due to their race or ethnicity. However, without including private and sensitive data, the requirements for inclusion on the list will remain minimal and contribute to more “false positives.”

The TSC is working to improve data and data management procedures. Improved communication between intelligence agencies in the future may greatly contribute to advances in the quality and accuracy of the list. But, as of now, the list stands as a major air travel security measure despite its flaws. According to the case study, “Given the option between a list that tracks every potential terrorist at the cost of unnecessarily tracking some innocents, and a list that fails to track many terrorists in an effort to avoid tracking innocents, many would choose the list that tracked every terrorist despite the drawbacks.”


A compilation of information from various articles served as the basis for this case study. Journalists from prominent publications internet sites such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN.com and Businessweek.com contributed to the creation of this case study through articles they wrote regarding the watch list. These articles, as well as those who wrote them, serve as the case study “firm.”


The TSC watch list has demonstrated a variety of strengths and weaknesses since its creation in 2003. Benefits of the list include safer air travel for passengers and reduced screening time, but this has come at the cost of inconveniences and cases of mistaken identity for many innocent travelers. Data redundancy and inconsistency have contributed to questioning of the list’s accuracy and quality.

A minimal lack of data and information has contributed to name duplication and erroneous inclusion of innocent travelers. In order to eliminate these “false positives,” or cases of mistaken identity, more information regarding each suspected terrorist on the list must be gathered. However, attempts to gather this necessary information have led to outcries of privacy invasion issues which have in turn caused continual delays in data gathering processes. Individuals do not want to be inconvenienced by the accidental inclusion on the list that is the result of lack of information, yet they do not want to compromise private information to ensure that they are not falsely named as a suspected terrorist. In this aspect, it seems as if there is no decent standard for the amount of data to include that is a balance of enough, but not too much, information about a particular individual.

Another issue that may contribute to inaccuracy is a lack of communication among government agencies. Non-FBI agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives do not view themselves as contributors to the watch list process, or they may disagree with what the FBI says constitutes terrorist activity. Some Department of Justice offices access information that may be necessary to include on the watch list but neglect to share that information with the FBI. Improved communication and coordination of sensitive and important information would greatly improve the quality and accuracy of the list.

The government has made significant improvements through the initial creation of the consolidated watch list, but this could be further improved upon by better management practices and a shared information system. Creating a management team specifically to monitor the watch list and the information supplied by other government agencies would improve the quality of the watch list as well as communication with vital contributors. This group could also ensure that innocents are not falsely included on the list. Combining the gathered data into communal information system would allow all the organizations who utilize the watch list access to important data and would create a watchdog effect as well as increased safety measures.


What concepts in this chapter are illustrated in this case?

The concepts from this chapter that the case uses are file organization, and problems with the traditional file format including redundancy and consistency, data management and systems to manage the data, and ensuring data quality.

Why was the consolidated terror watch list created? What are the benefits of the list?

The consolidated watch list was created to slow down the time of processing names in the computer. A “No Fly” list was created as a subset of the terrorist watch list to lessen the time passengers are waiting at airports by only screening those who are specifically not allowed to get on a plane. According to the article “Director of Terrorist Watch List Says Government Has Technical Capability to Screen all Passengers Against Full List Before They Board Planes,” by Fred Lucas of CNSNews.com, the “No Fly” list contains about 3,400 names, but the computers have the capability to screen the entire list if necessary. The article also states that about 14,000 names on the list are put in to another group that must have extra screening before the board an airplane.

The benefits of a smaller list definitely decrease the time to look up names in the system. With over 750,000 names, many of which are actually duplicated, shortening the list makes using it much more efficient. Some also believe that the criteria for getting on the list may be too broad, and that shortening the list to include only the most necessary names to watch for will help decrease the amount of people who are mistaken as terrorists.

Describe some of the weaknesses of the watch list. What management, organization, and technology factors are responsible for these weaknesses?

One of the main weaknesses of the watch list is the lack of information associated with the names on the list. This problem has led to many people wrongly identified as terrorists, and duplicates of names. The case study said that one name may have up to 50 duplicates. The length of the list is also getting longer and longer, which may make it less effective.

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The case study explains that the organizations that play a role in developing the list need to have more consistent rules for what information is required to get a name on the watch list and understand what other groups need to know who has been added so that a name is not duplicated. The organizations need to work together by sharing information to decrease these duplicates and make the list more detailed and informative for its users. The government could invest in some sort of ERP system that will update each organization when one name has been added to the list, so that each group can update the name with the known information about that specific terrorist.

If you were responsible for the management of the TSC watch list database, what steps would you take to correct some of these weaknesses?

The first step I would take to improve the list would be to have more research done on each name that the list includes. One of the main complaints of the list is that people are unsure of how a name gets added and why they are added. If there was a specific group of people whose job was to maintain the list we would be able to have more information show up when a name is found to be on the list to ensure that the person being screened is in fact a terrorist and not a person with a similar name.

If this group was formed, they would also be responsible for removing unnecessary names on the list that create false positives for innocent passengers. The case study explained that many of the people who requested their name to get off the list are still waiting and face extra scrutiny every time they try and fly. Keeping these names on the list also increase its size and inefficiency.

Lastly I would invest more technology into updating and maintaining the list. I think that this tool will be extremely helpful for airlines and keeping the world safer from terrorist attacks, but it must be easier to use and more reliable to increase its potential. After the Christmas Day Bomber almost successfully detonated a bomb over Detroit while his plane was about to land, it is easy to see that we have a long way to go to protect ourselves from this treat.

Do you believe that the watch list represents a significant threat to individuals’ privacy or Constitutional rights? Why or why not?

Currently, I do not believe that this list is threatening to an individual’s privacy or Constitutional rights. The list is too broad right now and doesn’t include very much information about the suspected terrorists. However, if they decide to do more research when pulling the list together people may feel that the government is being more invasive. Even with this extra research however, I do not think that it violates their Constitutional rights. If people want to be able to fly safely all around the world, they will need to give up some of their privacy to do so.


The Terrorist Watch List was created to monitor those flying on domestic and international flights after the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. Currently, the list is not very detailed and very long, creating many problems. These problems include duplications of names and “false positives” causing hassle for passengers who are mistaken as terrorists. The list is also growing rapidly which makes screening for names take longer and longer. The government agencies responsible for the list are also slow at removing false names.

While this list is a great start to protect passengers while flying, there are still many advances that will need to be made. The names on the list need to have more details and research corresponding to them, and the agencies working with this list need to work together to cut down on duplicate information. They will also need to work on the length of the list, and sub-lists, to make sure that it is used effectively to prevent terrorist attacks.


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