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A watchlist is loosely defined as an "individual and customizable list of search criteria". Watchlists are created by internet users to track financial trends and the stock market, breaking news stories, and any number of other topics of concern. Birders and other naturalists create watchlists to help track the habits of wildlife. A wide range of hobbyists and sports enthusiasts create a plethora of watchlists particular to individual interests. Governments around the globe have been creating watchlists predating the Cold War and in earnest since the events of September 11, 2001.

TSA Watchlist

Since the events of September 11, 2001, "The FBI has made information on subjects of their terrorism investigations accessible through the National Crime Information Center system to 650,000 state and local law enforcement officers nationwide and has established a 24/7 watchlist unit to respond to calls from the field. The Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration has established a 'no fly list', which has led to the successful apprehension of several dangerous terrorist suspects."[1]

According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)'s April 2003online newsletter, "The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is now part of the Department of Homeland Security, is authorized by law to maintain a watchlist of names of individuals suspected of posing 'a risk of air piracy or terrorism or a threat to airline or passenger safety.' While initially denying to the media that such a list existed, the TSA finally acknowledged its existence in October 2002."

Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), EPIC obtained documents that show that the TSA created the watchlist in 1990 "with a list of individuals who have 'been determined to pose a direct threat to U.S. civil aviation.'" The TSA now administers two lists: "a 'no-fly list' and a 'selectee list', which requires the passenger to go through additional security measures. The names are provided to air carriers through Security Directives or Emergency Amendments and are stored in their computer systems so that an individual with a name that matches the list can be flagged when getting a boarding pass. A 'no-fly' match requires the agent to call a law enforcement officer to detain and question the passenger. In the case of a Selectee, an 'S' or special mark is printed on their boarding pass and the person receives additional screening at security. The TSA has withheld the number of names on each of the lists."

This process has been superceded by a more sophisticated "watch" or selection system, the Computer Assisted Passenger PreScreening System II also known as CAPPS and CAPPS II.

U.S.-Canadian "coding"

The January 22, 2004, edition of the Toronoto Sun reports that "Canada Customs officers are joining their U.S. counterparts in the coding of international passengers arriving at airports nationwide for security checks. Customs agents will in months begin checking passengers against Canadian, U.S. and Interpol databases and assign them numbers from one to 10 based on the security threat they pose, officials said. ... Those with numbers close to 10 will be given extra scrutiny, questioned or detained on arrival.

"The U.S. will this summer begin coding passengers green, orange or red, based on the threat they pose. Green is not a threat, orange calls for more thorough screening and red means a traveller is under a 'lookout,' or subject to arrest."

"Customs spokesman Collette Gentes-Hawn said a National Centre of Expertise is being created in Ottawa to conduct the in-air checks. If a passenger poses a threat, airport officials will be told to question them, she said.

"'The centre will deal with passenger information and records,' Gentes-Hawn said. 'This will increase our ability to detect and interdict the movement of high-risk people.' ... She said the numeric coding will begin later this year and information will be shared with U.S. agencies.

"Officials said the program will detect terrorists or criminals sought by cops in 187 Interpol-member countries."

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