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The Bad Peter Johnson

A Reuter's news story about ten days ago quoted my friend, Peter Johnson, a retired-before-his-time Latin-American bibliographer at Princeton University. Peter, who still travels the world as a consultant, has had the incredible bad luck of sharing a name with someone under the suspicion of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), a division of the department of Homeland Security (Papers! Papers!). As a result, he has ended up on the TSA's "No Fly" list.

For Peter, making the list has meant fairly sizeable personal inconvenience --including having to clear his flights 24 hours in advance with TSA and then having to arrive six or more hours early on flight day-- with no obvious security benefits to the rest of us. Once TSA determined that this particular Peter Johnson --birthday, height, photo, Social Security number, say-- wasn't the one they were trying to keep off planes, why couldn't they alter their database to let him fly? And then devote the resources they're currently deploying to hassle Peter every time he flies, instead, to finding the bad Peter Johnson?

Peter is far from the only person suffering from TSA's Kafkaesque list. The Reuters' story reports that more than 28,000 people have asked TSA to remove their names from the list. More than 2,000 "Peter Johnsons" alone have complained. Others on the list include Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat, Massachusetts), Representative Don Young (Republican, Alaska), and Representative John Lewis (Democrat, Georgia). The Reuters story even mentions the case of a nine-month old whose name has flagged him for suspicion of terrorism every time he flies with his parents.