Frequently Asked Questions
Here is a list of questions that are asked frequently about the Terrorist Screening Center and the Terrorist Screening Database.
Why was the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) created?
Prior to the creation of the TSDB, information about known or suspected terrorists was dispersed throughout the U.S. Government and no one agency was charged with consolidating it and making it available for use in terrorist screening. Under Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 6, the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) now provides “one-stop shopping” so that every government screener is using the same terrorist watchlist—whether it is an airport screener, an embassy official issuing visas overseas, or a state or local law enforcement officer on the street. The TSC allows government agencies to run name checks against the same comprehensive list with the most accurate, up-to-date information about known and suspected terrorists.
Who gets included in the TSDB?
Per HSPD-6, only individuals who are known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB.
Does the TSDB contain information on domestic terrorists, like Timothy McVeigh?
Yes. The TSDB contains information on both international and domestic terrorists.
Does the TSDB contain information on people who have been convicted of a crime?
The purpose of the TSDB is not to hold information on individuals who have been convicted of a crime; however, an individual appropriately included in the TSDB may also have a criminal history. None of the information pertaining to the criminal history is contained or referenced in the TSDB.
Are there U.S. citizens in the TSDB?
Yes. U.S. citizens are included in TSDB if, under HSPD-6, there is a reasonable suspicion that they are known or reasonably suspected of terrorism.
Can I find out if I am in the TSDB?
The TSC cannot reveal whether a particular person is in the TSDB. The TSDB remains an effective tool in the government’s counterterrorism efforts because its contents are not disclosed. If TSC revealed who was in the TSDB, terrorist organizations would be able to circumvent the purpose of the terrorist watchlist by determining in advance which of their members are likely to be questioned or detained.
I am having trouble when I try to fly or cross the border into the United States. Does this mean I am in the TSDB?
No. At security checkpoints like our nation’s borders, there are many law enforcement or security reasons that an individual may be singled out for additional screening. Most agencies have redress offices (e.g., Ombudsman) where individuals who are experiencing repeated problems can seek help. If an individual is experiencing these kinds of difficulties, he/she should cooperate with the agency screeners and explain the recurring problems. The screeners can supply instructions on how to raise concerns to the appropriate agency redress office.
I have been told that I am on a terrorist watchlist by an airline employee and I frequently have difficulty when I fly. Does this mean I am in the TSDB?
No; however, an individual may be a “misidentified person.” A misidentified person is someone who is experiencing a delay during screening because they have a similar name to a person in the TSDB. Misidentified persons are sometimes delayed while the government works to distinguish them from the terrorist in the TSDB. Because these delays are frustrating and inconvenient, there are several initiatives in progress to help streamline the clearance process for misidentified persons. If an individual believes he/she is having a misidentification problem, he/she should contact the screening agency’s redress office for assistance.
Are individuals removed from the TSDB?
Yes. The TSC works with partner agencies through a formal process to remove individuals who no longer meet the HSPD-6 terrorism criteria.
How does TSC ensure that the TSDB is accurate?
The TSC has a staff dedicated to redress and quality assurance that conducts comprehensive as well as case-specific reviews of TSDB records to ensure they are current, accurate, and thorough. TSC conducts research and coordinates with other federal agencies to ensure the terrorist record is as complete, accurate, and thorough as possible. TSC’s redress and quality assurance process has resulted in the correction or removal of hundreds of records in TSDB.
What are TSC’s redress procedures?
See the Redress Procedures for details.
Does TSA’s Secure Flight program have anything to do with the TSDB?
Secure Flight is the U.S. Government-mandated program responsible for matching passenger information against the government watch list. Secure Flight conducts consistent watch list matching against TSDB entries for flights into, and out of, and within the U.S. As with all government programs that screen for terrorists, TSC provides the Secure Flight program support to ensure terrorist identity matches are correct.
What prevents the TSC from violating the civil liberties of Americans?
The TSC only receives information collected by other government entities with pre-existing authority to do so. Each agency that contributes data to the TSC must comply with legislation, as well as its own policies and procedures to protect privacy rights and civil liberties. The handling and use of information, including information about U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, is governed by the same statutory, regulatory, and constitutional requirements as if the information was not to be included in a TSC managed database.
How are the No Fly and Selectee Lists administered?
The TSC administers the TSDB, which includes as subsets the No Fly and the Selectee Lists. The TSC reviews each TSDB nomination to determine if the individual meets No Fly or Selectee criteria. The nomination process includes analysis by TSA employees, who are detailed to the TSC to function as subject matter experts when determining if the subset criteria are met. This determination is then approved by TSC Operations management. The subsets are exported to the TSA, which then issues the lists as final agency orders to commercial air carriers flying into, out of, or within the U.S. for passenger and crew screening, a process that TSA will complete in-house with the full transition to Secure Flight.
Why is the watchlist kept secret?
This is probably best answered by quoting an editorial that was published in The Washington Post on July 14, 2010: “There are legitimate law enforcement reasons for keeping the list secret: Disclosure of such information would tip off known or suspected terrorists, who could then change their habits or identities to escape government scrutiny.”