Here’s The Letter I Received From The Department Of Homeland Security

As I first wrote about a bit over a month ago, at the beginning of the year I seemed to be on some sort of a U.S. government watchlist. I belong to the TSA Trusted Traveler program, and am typically eligible for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check. However, for the first six weeks of the year I was subjected to additional screening on every single flight I took.

SSSS-1

As I explained at the time, there’s an appeals process. It’s not all that transparent (understandably), but at least there’s a process you can go through to try and clear your name. It’s called the DHS TRIP program, which stands for Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. This allows you to get a redress number, which you can add to your reservation so you’re not constantly subjected to additional screening.

As I wrote about yesterday, my online account status for my DHS TRIP case was finally updated, as follows:

DHS-TRIP

However, I hadn’t yet received the referenced letter.

Well, I just received a letter in the mail from the DHS (or more accurately, my dad did, and took a picture of it for me). For anyone curious, here’s what it said:

Thank you for submitting your Traveler Inquiry Form and identity documentation to the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. DHS’ mission is to lead the unified national effort to secure the country, including U.S. border and transportation security. We take requests for redress seriously, and we understand the inconveniences that additional inspections may cause. DHS strives to process travelers in the most efficient and professional manner possible without compromising our mission to safeguard the United States, its people and its visitors.

When DHS receives a redress inquiry, we conduct a thorough review of the matter. We consult and share information with other agencies, when appropriate, to relieve you from the burden of seeking redress on an agency-by-agency basis, and to address the issue that you identified in your application. We have found that about 2% of the DHS TRIP complaints actually have some connection to the Terrorist Watchlist. Complaints most often arise either because the traveler’s name and personal information is similar to the name and personal information of another person in systems which contain information from federal, state, local and foreign sources or because the traveler has been delayed in travel for reasons unrelated to such data, such as by random screening.

DHS has researched and completed our review of your case. DHS TRIP can neither confirm nor deny any information about you which may be within federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information. However, we have made any corrections to records that our inquiries determined were necessary, including, as appropriate, notations that may assist in avoiding incidents of misidentification.

For your general information, here is how redress helps when traveling:

  1. When traveling by air to or within the United States, DHS recommends that you provide your redress control number when making your reservations. Providing this information will help prevent misidentification from occurring during security checks against government records and other information. In most online reservation systems, your redress number may be entered at the same time you enter your full name and date of birth.
  2. When entering the United States from abroad, no additional action is required. Where appropriate, as a result of the redress process, DHS employs a procedure to correct the information used to process travelers in the ports of entry that reduces the chances of misidentification occurring.

Despite these positive efforts, we cannot ensure your travels will be delay-free. The redress process does not affect other standard screening procedures in place at airports and borders. For example, an individual may be selected for additional screening in order to resolve a walk-through metal detector alarm, because of random selection, or other reasons. While the process may sometimes be stressful, we rely on the patience, cooperation and understanding of travelers in such cases. The aim of these security measures is to safeguard the people of the United States and visitors to this Nation.

This letter constitutes our final agency decision. Pursuant to 49 USC 46110, you have 60 days to seek review of this decision in an appropriate United States Court of Appeals.

Color me very impressed by this whole process. Less than a month after I submitted my application I got a response, and the issue seems to be resolved. That’s a much easier process than I was expecting.

Admittedly the letter is generic, but that’s what I was expecting. I didn’t think they’d tell me “you were on X list because you flew to X country,” but rather I think it’s perfectly fair for them to say “we’ve looked into it and may or may not have taken action.”

Clearly they did take action, because I’m no longer getting secondary screening.

My only remaining question is how important it is for me to actually put my redress number on reservations? I haven’t put it on reservations for the past couple of weeks but haven’t had issues. It’s my understanding that the redress number is most useful if you have the same name as someone on a terrorist watchlist, which I doubt I have. So I’m not sure if I’d actually benefit from adding it, or…?

Thanks so much to everyone for their advice throughout this process, and I’m thrilled it’s resolved. Spending an extra 20 minutes being screened before every single flight was a huge pain. Given how much I fly, the additional screening would translate into over a day of my life each year.

Comments

  1. I’ve been following this closely since my husband has had similar problems lately despite being on the Trusted Traveler program. Received his redress number a few weeks ago. Gives me hope for a smooth homecoming when we return from England in a few weeks. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Just be glad you are a white man and your name is not Muhammad. If that were the case no amount of writing letters would get you out from their additional screening. I’ve seen way too many people pulled out of lines at airports merely because they look middle eastern and have had friends who are american but indian ethnicity get put through additional screening over and over again at the airport. I don’t feel safer with TSA in charge.

  3. “We won’t tell you what we did, or if we did anything, but you have 60 days to appeal our decision, which we may or may not have made.” Very well then.

  4. It’s good to know the turnaround time for you is so quick and good to know the follow up story. It’s time for me to apply my own. Hopefully I’ll be off this annoying SSSS issue – can’t wait!

  5. You’ve been checked out and gotten it, so why not include it? What concerns might having a redress number associated on your tickets raise?

  6. “Bill says:
    March 4, 2017 at 12:19 pm
    Just be glad you are a white man and your name is not Muhammad. If that were the case no amount of writing letters would get you out from their additional screening. I’ve seen way too many people pulled out of lines at airports merely because they look middle eastern and have had friends who are american but indian ethnicity get put through additional screening over and over again at the airport. I don’t feel safer with TSA in charge”

    Conflating the issues here, and more than a little unfair. The disaster that is the TSA is obvious. However, shouldn’t we allow them to exercise some common sense in doing their jobs the best they can, even if that’s not very good?

    Screening will change if 1) terrorism is reduced, and/or 2) the terrorists start having names like Smith, O’Leary, or Rosenberg. The hard truth that we all should acknowledge is that, 1) may be possible, while 2) ain’t happening. That’s the on the ground reality. So with ALL of our families flying around in metal balloons 6 miles in the air, why would anyone from any background not understand this? It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think you can make a valid argument to say its not prudent.

  7. I think you should appeal. In your appeal, you should say you cannot reveal why you are appealing, nor can you reveal whether you are unsatisfied with the outcome of the redress procedure, nor can you reveal whether you even noticed a difference. In fact, you cannot even reveal whether you exist. But you expect them to answer your appeal in 60 days.

  8. am I the only one who enjoys those secondary pat downs? Some hot TSA agents around here.

    I have gotten a few phone numbers..,

  9. I think there is no need to use your redress number. Like you suggest, you were being screened because you had been targeted (probably due to your travel patterns), and the redress process removed your name from their watch list. The redress number would only matter if you were being misidentified.

    I can’t help but think that your case was handled quickly because they know you are a prominent travel blogger, and they wanted you to blog that you were impressed by the process. My redress inquiry took about three months, despite the fact that I have an active government security clearance.

  10. @steve

    +1 to Paul’s point about “McVeigh”. Don’t forget Lanza or Roof or Purinton either, and many others. Are you in favor of profiling on their demographics as well?

  11. I am not sure what dilemma there is about adding the redress # to your future reservations. Since all that is required is to go to your profile and add the # and it will be put into all your records: what is the issue? Am I misunderstanding this post?

  12. My question is, why put you through all this hassle to begin with? You were “guilty” until YOU took the initiative to prove yourself “not guilty.” You wasted your time, and time is money. DHS had the ability to find out all your particulars BEFORE you were put on the list. As you said, is there a person out there with your name who is on the list? And if so, just how many people have your same name (it does not seem like a very common name)? I swear sometimes the people in these organizations do things just to have something to do for their own job security (if you aren’t work, why are you there?). They don’t care about who they hurt in the long run. I’m glad it all worked out but wonder how many others have had this same experience w/a positive outcome in the end. Consider the research for a followup story.

  13. SSSS is random, based on federal aviation security rules, a random % of passengers need to be screened beyond the normal measures and the airlines determine who…the more you fly, the more often it happens. I have TSA precheck, Nexus/Global Entry and Secret Clearance with the government and still get it. My husband who travels with me has never gotten SSSS. Luck of the draw.

  14. OK, deep breath (and sticking to the content) . . .

    @Lucky, while I am happy for you that your particular issue was (apparently) resolved, this is the closest thing DHS actually gets to acknowledging this:

    | DHS TRIP can neither confirm nor deny . . . However, we have made any
    | corrections to records that our inquiries determined were necessary, including, as
    | appropriate, notations that may assist in avoiding incidents of misidentification . . .
    | This letter constitutes our final agency decision. Pursuant to 49 USC 46110, you
    | have 60 days to seek review of this decision in an appropriate United States Court
    | of Appeals.

    in the otherwise extremely generic CYA letter.

    What I find most striking about the letter, however, is that — while DHS cannot confirm or deny anything about YOU, they DO admit that they “have found that about 2% of the DHS TRIP complaints actually have some connection to the Terrorist Watchlist.” Meaning, of course, that 98 percent of the complaints are about . . . ?

    Sadly, @Bill is quite right, Lucky: “Just be glad you are a white man and your name is not Muhammad.” Like him, I do not feel any safer with TSA in charge — especially since, at so many airports, it’s not really TSA but a private contractor! (After all, private contractors did so well in Iraq . . . NOT!)

  15. Lucky, if it’s so onerous to type the redress number, don’t. But don’t post about your horrendous experience afterwards.
    I fail to understand why this is even a question. You’ve been asked to do something to make your own travel easier. So just do it already.

  16. “Papers please” totalitarianism with a rabbit hole that just keeps getting deeper. Proud of being American ?

  17. I don’t ordinarily think I’m paranoid or even mistrustful. However, my first thought with this elusive and opaque answer is that the system is unreliable. I would not include a redress number unless I encountered further difficulties. At this point in America’s convoluted political and social circumstances, a redress seems to draw unwanted attention, without indicating why, whom, what generated that attention.
    My intuition says to stick with being a trusted traveler, consistently including that on the ticket/reservation.

  18. @ted —> Leaving the current political climate out of the equation, the whole purpose of having a Redress Number is to AVOID hassles at the airport. Say your name is Tim for a moment, instead of Ted. And let’s say your last name is McVeigh. (That name should/would be on every watchlist were he not executed for his part in the Oklahoma city bombing.) Regardless of your passport being valid (i.e.: passing the initial scrutiny by the overworked TSA agent checking your boarding pass), your name alone triggers extra attention. You could have received your Trusted Traveler number up to five years ago, but that *other* Tim Veigh could have detonated his device 18 months ago — AFTER you received your Trusted Traveler number . . . the Redress Number basically tells the TSA, “Yeah, yeah, we know, but we checked this guy out and he isn’t THAT Tim McVeigh.” This is why EVERY airline provides you with a place to add your Redress number to your profile, along with your TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry “Trusted Traveler” number. So unless you believe the black helicopters are arriving shortly . . . use it!

  19. The fact that Ben was on the watchliSSSSt shows how broken the system is. If it can’t verify that Ben *is not* a terrorist, how well does it verify that someone *is* a terrorist?

    How many Benjamin Schlappigs are out there? A quick Googling shows who he is. Even easier — he posts his travel plans and credit cards online! This shouldn’t take even the laziest civil servant more than an hour to verify. Maybe 3 hours if they’re in the middle of a NetFlix binge-fest at their desk.

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