Entire U.S. Terrorism Watch List Leaked Online

The US government maintains a “No Fly List” and airlines are required to check passengers against it before allowing them to fly. They maintain other lists that trigger increased security screening and potentially harassment.

The lists are pre-crime profiling. Not even based on science. And it’s also done very very poorly. People get on the list by mistake, because they’re related to someone who is on it (or just have a similar name), or because they visited the wrong country in the wrong year. .

These are secret lists that people haven’t been entitled to know they are on, how they got on, or to confront the evidence relied upon to put them on it. Legally there is very little recourse, and when challenged the government claims ‘state secrets.’

What we actually need are robust due process protections for inclusion on government lists of US citizens. People wind up on the list arbitrarily, by mistake, and without real evidence.

The ‘No Fly List’ works like this:

  • Formal responsibility for the list rests with the TSA and under 49 U.S.C. § 46110 inclusion is only reviewable by circuit courts in which judges are required to defer to the TSA’s judgment about all alleged facts and are permitted only to review the administrative record created by and provided to them by the TSA itself.

  • Until 2015 the TSA wouldn’t even tell people whether they were on the list (making it difficult to sue to get off the list when you can’t prove you’re on it). The TSA does not tell people why they are on the list.

  • Decisions to put someone on the no fly list are based on predictive pre-crime profiling rather than actual evidence about the individual’s actions or intentions. This is a huge leap in our justice system.

This list isn’t only used by the government, and it isn’t secure. In fact the U.S. distributes the list to over 1400 private organizations and shares it with other governments. It’s used for purposes beyond national security.

It appears that federal government lawyers have perjured themselves claiming that the list was not shared. It’s even given to “police forces at private universities, hospital security staff” and it’s not clear what, if any, restrictions there are on how the information is used. Meanwhile the government “adds hundreds of thousands of names to the list every year.”

There are now nearly two million names on terrorism watch lists and the entire list was leaked online via a Bahrain server. Not sure how I missed this a few weeks ago, but thanks to commenter jamesb2147 for flagging. With Europeans included on the list, surely the E.U. should fine the U.S. government under GDPR?

“The exposed Elasticsearch cluster contained 1.9 million records,” Diachenko said. “I do not know how much of the full TSC Watchlist it stored, but it seems plausible that the entire list was exposed.”

Information exposed in the leak included data points such as:

Full name
TSC watchlist ID
Citizenship
Gender
Date of birth
Passport number
Country of issuance
No-fly indicator

More passport numbers were leaked online by the government than by Marriott, even.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Be careful, Gary.

    Stories like this could get you added to the list. As you suggest, it only takes one government official with a grudge.

  2. You can get on the list just by being related to someone (guilt by association) suspected of terrorist involvement.

    This is true with NEXUS and SENTRY cards that allow expedited clearance at the land borders with Canada and Mexico. If one member of a family is caught with undeclared food, all family members can have their NEXUS cards revoked.

  3. @Pete Holy crap. Hey, I didn’t mean to imply that ANYONE should be fired over this. Absolutely not. Mistakes will happen. No harm done. Let’s not make a mountain out of a mole hill, folks…..

  4. @Thing 1…..you better show up at the airport 3 *days* before your next flight to clear security 😉

  5. In my view the central question here is whether in fact these lists – harmful to civil liberties as they are – actually help avoid another 9/11 style attack, or not.
    If it doesn’t – make the necessary changes, or if that’s impossible – get rid of this way of operating, and build something else instead.
    But, if it does – and I don’t know if anyone can say 100% it does or doesn’t – I’m all for it, even if I myself were wrongly affected by this because it saves lives.

  6. Why has America become so soft on executing terrorists? We still have not prosecuted some of the perpetrators held in custody?! Twenty years on. They laugh and mock us seeing that there is no consequences for their actions. What does it take to execute monsters after a 911? If we had pulled that we would have been executed day 2. This does not make us more compassionate just stupid. There was a time we executed for treason now not even a 911 will get you a speedy trial. I say we’re doomed. Of all those who need their precious rights protected these savages are not even on the list!

  7. Joanie, I agree the bad guys should have their fair and quick days in court. But apparently a lot of those who went to Devil’s Island–I mean Guantanamo–or the CIA’s secret black holes were people who somebody denounced just for a bounty or for personal spite/vengeance. Separating them from the real evil doers has been horrific. It doesn’t help that people who understand how to get information say that torture is the worst way to do it and anybody will say anything. Anyway, real trials will bring out just how badly “we” abused prisoners. The whole thing has been mishandled to the point where figuring out “the truth” may be an illusion.

  8. @ Dude26. Permanently banning all commercial flights will without question save a large number of lives going forward. Just look at the number of people killed in air crashes since the beginning of air travel. It will also save children’s lives. In fact, I can think of great many things that if banned by the government would save untold lives–but that doesn’t mean I am dumb enough to support doing so.

  9. joanie adams – well said!! The overwhelming argument in favor of of executing them is……..
    “It sure get’s rid of the repeaters!!” If it had been done to those die hard terrorists that were disgracefully exchanged for the deserter then 4/5th of the new “leadership” of Afghanistan would be where they belong and not in the process of slaughtering Americans left behind!!!

  10. I think more than a few of the terrorists being held would have preferred execution over the treatment they have received in detention. Whether being waterboarded 100-200 times or having forced anal hydration they weren’t having a party in detention.

    Personally I think they should have either been killed, instead of being picked up and held at “black sites” and then later in Cuba, or brought back to the US and had a real trial. The current process is a mess.

  11. The US has sovereign immunity, so the EU can’t and won’t really do much of anything — other than perhaps huff and puff just a bit for harmless show — about personal data leaks by the USG.

  12. So they wouldn’t tell the people who are on the list that they are on the list, but they will tell some rent a cop at a university? It is time to get a new list of only people where they have actual intelligence the person is a threat. Not some made up feeling. Really don’t understand how the courts are allowing this nonsense to continue.

  13. “Really don’t understand how the courts are allowing this nonsense to continue.”

    @Bill Simple answer. The courts are no longer about the law, if they ever were. They are about politics and the government of the day. That’s why the ongoing squabble about Supreme Court appointments.

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