A conserved mRNA degradation system, referred to as mRNA surveillance, exists in eukaryotic cells to degrade aberrant mRNAs. A defining aspect of aberrant transcripts is that the spatial relationship between the termination codon and specific downstream sequence information has been altered. A key, yet unknown, feature of the mRNA surveillance system is how this spatial relationship is assessed in individual transcripts. Two views have emerged to describe how discrimination between proper and improper termination might occur. In the first view, a surveillance complex assembles onto the mRNA after translation termination, and scans the mRNA in a 3' to 5' direction for a limited distance. If specific downstream sequence information is encountered during this scanning, then the surveillance complex targets the transcript for rapid decay. An alternate view suggests that the downstream sequence information influences how translation termination occurs. This view encompasses several ideas including: (a) The architecture of the mRNP can alter the rate of key steps in translation termination; (b) the discrimination between a proper and improper termination occurs via an internal, Upf1-dependent, timing mechanism; and (c) proper termination results in the restructuring of the mRNP to a form that promotes mRNA stability. This proposed model for mRNA surveillance is similar to other systems of kinetic proofreading that monitor the accuracy of other biogenic processes such as translation and spliceosome assembly.