WASHINGTON – The government should check travelers' names against terrorist watch lists before they board passenger trains or cruise ships, the Sept. 11 commission (search) recommended Wednesday.
Airlines now check their passengers' names against such a list, a responsibility that the Transportation Security Administration (search) plans to assume sometime next year.
Privacy advocates say the government is too secretive about how it puts people on the list and that those who are mistakenly identified as terrorists don't have an effective way of getting off it.
The proposal is one of 94 released Wednesday that expand upon a handful of transportation security improvements the Sept. 11 commission recommended to Congress in July.
The new proposals include giving flight attendants counterterrorism training, drawing up comprehensive plans to protect all forms of transportation and expanding the use of watch lists.
"Steps should be taken as soon as possible to convert the "No-Fly" list into a "No-Transport" list that would be provided to transportation providers in addition to air carriers (starting with cruise ships and Amtrak)," the report said.
The commission said that state, local and tribal law enforcement authorities should have access to the terrorist watch lists.
Privacy advocate Marcia Hofmann said the government shouldn't expand the use of watch lists until it has a proven system of redress for passengers wrongly flagged as terrorists.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., and Rep. John Lewis (search), D-Ga., recently said they were confused with terrorists on the list. Kennedy said it took him three weeks and several calls to federal officials to get off the list.
"If the Transportation Security Administration builds any sort of a passenger prescreening system without taking into account privacy concerns from the very beginning, it simply isn't a program that could work," said Hofmann, staff counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The commission acknowledged that concern and said the TSA must involve the public and privacy advocates in the debate from the start. It recommended privacy standards, grievance procedures and an independent privacy panel to oversee the system.
The 20-page report stressed that government needs to develop comprehensive strategic plans to protect ships, trucks and mass transit systems as well as aviation, which has gotten the bulk of federal spending and attention since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
TSA chief David Stone has said such a plan will be finished by year end.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the House aviation subcommittee who made the report available, said the government has done only about 10 percent of what it should be doing to protect transportation.
"No one could look at this and say we've done everything we can do, or are in the process of doing everything we can do, to make the country safe," he said.
Other recommendations include:
— Credentialing and screening people and vehicles that have access to commercial airplanes.
— Establishing a separate board to investigate terrorist attacks on transportation, either modeled on or attached to the National Transportation Safety Board, which has a politically balanced membership.
— Determining ideal staffing levels for federal air marshals and airport security screeners by Feb. 1.
— Transferring responsibility for training flight attendants in self-defense and counterterrorism techniques to the Justice Department if the TSA doesn't do it by year end.