Government Executive ran a story yesterday entitled, “Lawmakers seek more precision in TSA’s terrorist watch list.” What makes me crazy is this statement:
“As more terrorists' identities emerge, the list is growing ever longer. Improved algorithms are needed to both narrow the search for potential hijackers and expedite the boarding process for scores of innocent passengers, according to several members of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.”
In truth, the problem is hardly going to be solved with better algorithms. The problem is the ongoing lack of watch list fidelity (i.e., sparse attributes) which causes many false alarms because matching is many times based simply on name similarity alone.
Paul Rosenzweig and I wrote about remedies to this problem and called for improved watch list transparency and redress in this Heritage Foundation paper entitled “Correcting False Positives: Redress and the Watch List Conundrum.”
Other related posting: Comments on the TSA No-Fly and Selectee Watch List Process