Security State Run Amok: Government Distributes Terror Watch List to 1441 Private Organizations

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 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 significant 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.

Now we’re learning that the Department of Homeland Security shares the Terror Watch List with at least 1400 private groups. It isn’t even kept secret by the government! And those groups use it for a variety of purposes beyond national security.

The federal government has acknowledged that it shares its terrorist watchlist with more than 1,400 private entities, including hospitals and universities, prompting concerns from civil libertarians that those mistakenly placed on the list could face a wide variety of hassles in their daily lives.

The government’s admission that it shares the list so broadly comes after years of insistence that the list is generally not shared with the private sector.

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.”

(HT: Bruce Schneier)

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, 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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  1. […] Of course anyone trying to do anything nefarious is doing their best to avoid calling undue attention to themselves. The last thing they’re going to do is file a complaint about an employee and ask to go to secondary. Anyone who asks to go to secondary is – almost by definition – not someone that should have their Global Entry revoked. But then someone wound up on the No Fly List as retaliation for refusing to become an FBI informant. […]


  1. Have you EVER met someone who claims to on the “ no fly list?” Yeah, me neither

  2. It does not matter if you are politically conservative, moderate, or liberal …

    Matters such as this and the shenanigans in the FBI and Justice Department in the past 2 years regarding the politically inspired “Russian collusion” point out the need for serious governmental reform.

    President Trump may, at times, be obnoxious and the merits of his policies should be open to honest debate – as should those of every President and politician – but the desire to “drain the swamp” offers a certain amount of insight and merit.

  3. For those who read the article:

    “The watchlist is supposed to include only those who are known or suspected terrorists but contains hundreds of thousands of names. The government’s no-fly list is culled from a small subset of the watchlist.”

    “The exact number on the list is kept secret by the government, but it acknowledged in an earlier lawsuit that it adds hundreds of thousands of names to the list every year. It also emphasized that names are routinely removed from the list.”

    the *watchlist* is large and fluid. The no-fly list is “culled from a small subset of the watchlist”.

    So, no, hundreds of thousands of names are not added to the no-fly list every year.

  4. As a conservative I always fret at how many of my fellow friends claim they don’t trust big government but support the police state and trust cops, the military and government law enforcement agencies.

    Cops enforce laws and if those are liberal laws made by liberal politicians and upheld by liberal judges, by supporting the police they are supporting everything they are against (don’t talk about changing the law because under a majority rule system the minority will always be enslaved and dictated to by the majority). And do they really trust government bureaucrats appointed by politicians who decide policy, who hire agents and make decisions that have serious ramifications for people. It’s completely illogical. By having secret lists that any agent can arbitrarily and capriciously put anyone on that is a big danger. There is no mechanism for people to challenge being put on the list.

    Rather than restricting immigration of certain groups to this country the government restricts and violates fundamental freedoms of real citizens through the patriot act, secret lists like this and spying. Conservatives should be distrustful of all government including law enforcement agencies who claim they are keeping us safe when that are the ones making us unsafe.

  5. Slice it how you like, this is not good. Oh, @Shapiro – This type of governmental behavior is exactly what happened in the U.S.S.R., and still happens in other communist countries, so you should be accusing Gary of being a fanatical RIGHT wing partisan. Learn some history.

  6. Scary times. These types of lists are the precursor for a police state. Does not matter whether the police state is for good or for bad, for left or for right, for reasonable people or unreasonable, the police state by its nature is wrong because it impinges on the rights of the individual.

  7. @John ampton. I agree with your concerns.

    Bush dramatically expanded the ability of government to spy on USA citizens with the Patriot act. These rules and the number of people monitoring ordinary citizens has grown dramatically. Almost all of us use banks for most financial transactions. Every bank is required to create a financial profile of each person/corporation and then monitor that profile for unusual transactions. If you make translations outside that profile, they are supposed to investigate. The bank is required to report transactions over $10,000 to the IRA and the Federal Government. Suppose you feel like you do not want the investigations (just because) and decide to take cash out at $2,000 increments (totaling over $10,000) instead of $10,000 increments. Guess what, that is structuring which is per se illegal. Further almost any court (including family court as many men know) can freeze all of your bank accounts at a whim. At the end of the day, the money in the bank is not really your money.

    On the other hand, if you decide that the bank is scary and you decide to live on a cash basis, the cops can take it without due process in a mechanism called civil forfeiture. Cash is per se suspicious.

    I think people do not realize how precarious their freedoms are.

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