Tuesday, December 15, 2015

HR 4240 Introduce – TSDB Report

Last week Rep. Jackson-Lee (D,TX) introduced HR 4240, the No Fly for Foreign Fighters Act. The bill would require the GAO to conduct a study of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB)

Report to Congress

The bill requires the GAO to report to Congress within 180 days of passage of the bill. The report would address how well the FBI had corrected previously identified problems with the TSDB. It would also address how {§2(b)}:

• Information is being integrated into the TSDB from all relevant sources across the government in a timely manner;
• Agencies are able to comply with increased demands for information to improve the TSDB;
• The TSDB, and relevant subsets of the TSDB, are accessible to agencies, authorities, and other entities, as appropriate; and
• The TSDB is capable of enabling users to identify known or suspected terrorists in the most timely and comprehensive manner possible.

Moving Forward

Ms. Jackson-Lee is the Ranking Member of the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, the Committee to which this bill was referred for consideration. The two cosponsors of the bill {Rep. Conyers (D,MI), and Rep. Ratcliffe (R,TX)} are also members of that Committee with Conyers being the Ranking Member. This means that there is probably enough political pull to have the measure considered in Committee.

Since this bill only requires a report to Congress and not any real action or expenditure of funds, there is unlikely to be any major opposition to this bill. And considering the increasing interest in the potential for terrorist attacks in this country, there is every incentive to ensure that the TSDB is an effective tool to help prevent such attacks.


This bill does not require the report to address what is probably the biggest drawback to the TSDB; the fact that this is essentially a name based database. Since names are not unique identifiers of people and most people use a number of variations of their own names in day to day life, there exists a very real (and demonstrated) problem of misidentifying people as having possible terrorist ties when what they have is a similar name to someone that has possible terrorist ties.

While this is an inconvenience (perhaps substantial inconvenience) to someone that is prohibited from boarding an aircraft it can mean a loss of livelihood if the misidentified person is denied a Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) or flagged during a CFATS personnel surety program check.

Since people are not filling out applications to be placed on the TSDB and providing finger prints and background information in the process it is inevitable and probably unavoidable that misidentification will take place. What needs to be understood by policy makers (who may want to expand the use of the TSDB into constitutionally protected areas like weapon sales) is the prevalence of these ‘false positives’, what is being done to reduce them, and what redress measures are available when they do occur. All of this should be included in this report if Congress is to derive any legislative benefit from the report.

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