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Confusion over identity

April 01, 2004

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NEW YORK, March 31: The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has asked the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to end the harassment of Asif Iqbal , a Pakistani who has been repeatedly offloaded by airlines because he is the namesake of an individual detained in Guantanamo Bay for two years and released only a few weeks ago.

Mr Iqbal, who is a permanent resident of the US, flies frequently on business out of Rochester, New York, but has been stopped a number of times from boarding his flight due to the confusion over his identity.

In a letter to the TSA last week, the NYCLU detailed how Iqbal has endured repeated encounters at the boarding gate that cause needless hardship, humiliation and inconvenience because his name continues to appear on a "no fly" security list, even though the TSA has issued him a letter that clarifies his identity.

"We acknowledge the need for careful security with respect to air travel," says NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman. "However, the TSA can advance its goal of enhanced security with less intrusion on the rights of innocent passengers."

The NYCLU pointed out that "without fail for several years, Asif Iqbal has flown each week to and from various jobs as a software expert for a major consulting company".

The 31-year old Iqbal, who is married and a graduate of the University of Texas, generally leaves his home in Rochester on Monday mornings and usually returns Thursday evenings.

On Feb 18, 2002, the Pakistan-born Asif Iqbal attempted to check in for a flight out of Rochester, but when the airline clerk typed his name for issuance of a boarding pass, the computer flashed "Security Alert-Passenger Name on No-Fly List-Call LLE (local law enforcement).

The computer blocked Mr Iqbal's name so that it could not issue a boarding pass and four deputy sheriffs arrived and took him aside. He was asked a series of personal questions, eg the place of his birth, his job, etc.

After 90 minutes, Mr Iqbal was let go but missed his flight. Since then, Iqbal's efforts to check in for a flight invariably trigger an alert.