Finally: One List
More than two and a half years after gaps between the nation’s systems for monitoring terror suspects allowed 19 suicide hijackers to kill 3,000 people in the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States finally has a single database to which are being added the names of all those authorities know or suspect to be terrorists.
FBI official Donna Bucella told lawmakers Thursday that the Terrorist Screening Database went live on March 12, three months after the center that houses it opened its doors last December.
“The (Terrorist Screening Database) allows the consolidation of disparate information, currently held by multiple agencies and used in different ways, to be brought together for a single purpose — to help identify and detain potential terrorists,” Bucella, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center, told a congressional hearing.
She acknowledged that the database is still a “work in progress” and that it would be the end of the year before it was fully functional, when other federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and Customs would be able to access it online in real time, and when the system would be expanded to make it capable of storing biometric information like fingerprints.
Lawmakers, who have been vociferous in their criticism of the way responsibility for the task was moved among various government agencies and the deadline for completion repeatedly pushed back, said they remained concerned.
“There are serious questions we must ask,” said Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. “Are civil liberties and privacy interests scrupulously safeguarded? Could a name get on the … list erroneously? If so, how would that be discovered and how corrected, quickly and certainly?”
One would think that, in the Internet age, it would be easy to consolidate all the lists given the urgency created by 9/11. Apparently not. And it was entirely predictable that Congress would simultaneously complain that the list was taking too long to create and that creating the list was violating people’s privacy.