Tuesday, January 12, 2010
As you may have heard, one of the reasons we let a terrorist on board that Christmas day flight to Detroit was apparently because his name was misspelled on some list or screen. (See, for example, “State Department failed to confirm terror suspect’s visa,” CNN Politics, January 8, 2010.) The correct spelling, as best I can tell, is “Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab,” with or without the space between his last two names.
Admittedly, particularly for westerners unfamiliar with Muslim names, it’s a far cry from “Joe Smith” and typos are human nature. Okay, but lives are at stake. In no small way, the fate of a great nation hangs on the quality of our security systems and the software on which those systems rely.
Mind you, I’m no techie, but I do use Google and, yes, I sometimes misspell something when I initiate a search. When I do, Google responds by asking, “Do you mean: …,” and suggests an alternative spelling based on information it has on file. Within reason, go to Google and try entering Mr. Abdul Mutallab’s name, making an innocent typo when you do, and see what happens.
Am I being unfair? After all, Mr. Abdul Mutallab is all over the Internet now, but was unknown on the Internet before Christmas. Sure, but my point is still valid. When lives are on the line, the least we can expect is for our security systems software to find similar names and offer them as options to the authorities who might then realize, in a world of long, complicated and unfamiliar names, that maybe, just maybe the guy waiting nervously in line to board the plane, the one with the unusually large bulge in his pants, is worth a second look.
Maybe it’s time we put Google in charge of airport security. There are many reasons to die. A typo shouldn’t be one of them.
If you have time, take a look at To paraphrase Walt Disney, “Yemeny Cricket!”, published Monday, January 4, 2010 on the WordFeeder.