In the ACLU's new paper U.S. Government Watchlisting:
Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences [PDF], the group describes strange world of terrorist watchlists, including no-fly lists, where it's nearly impossible to discover if you're on a list, and nearly impossible to find out why you're on a list, and nearly impossible to get removed from a list. As the ACLU points out, this is Orwell by way of Kafka, where we're not allowed to know what surveillance is taking place or why surveillance is taking place -- and we're not allowed to know why we're not allowed to know.
The ACLU says that the national terrorism watchlist has 1.1 million names on it, and an AP report from 2012 found 21,000 people on the no-fly list. Recently, Rahinah Ibrahim became the first person to be officially, publicly removed from a no-fly list, after the government was forced to admit that she'd been placed there due to a bureaucratic error. All through the Ibrahim case, the government argued that disclosing any facts about her no-fly status would endanger national security, but ultimately it was obvious that the only potential risk was that the government's sloppiness would be disclosed. The state was willing to spend millions of dollars and ruin an innocent person's life rather than admitting that an FBI agent literally ticked the wrong box.
In the 13 years since 9/11, one person has managed to successfully challenge the system of secret and unaccountable watchlists. It's clear that she wasn't the only person who deserved to be removed, though. This is Big Data Kafka: the algorithm says you're guilty, and you're not allowed to see the data or the algorithm because it was not designed to work if the people who it judged knew about its parameters.
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Ahmed Shihab-Eldin is a respected journalist who holds US citizenship. Every time he returns to his home in New York, he is detained for many hours by the DHS, subjected to humiliating questioning and detention without evidence or charge, because he fits a "profile" that seems to consist entirely of "brown dude with Arabic name who visits the middle east." He recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos and found himself detained for hours, despite having been assured that his name had been removed from the DHS's watch-list.
His story of harrowing treatment at JFK airport stands in sharp contrast to his experiences at checkpoints in the middle east, where security risks are much more immediate and more grave. As he points out, America has spent billions creating an aviation security system and system of border checks that have had no material impact on security, but have nonetheless enmiserated, alienated, and harassed millions of people who committed no crime and posed no threat,
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Despite a series of disgraceful dirty tricks, the TSA has lost its case against Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian academic who had been wrongly put on the no-fly list. The DHS engaged in witness tampering (denying Dr Ibrahim and her witnesses access to the courtroom by putting them on the no-fly list) and argued that neither Dr Ibrahim nor her lawyers should be allowed to see the evidence against her (because terrorism).
Lowering the Bar does a great job of summing up the ruling, which held the no-fly list unconstitutional because citizens are "entitled to a remedy that requires the government to correct its lists and records... and to certify under oath that such correction(s) have been made."
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Phil writes, "Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project is doing a fantastic job of reporting on-site from Ibrahim v. DHS, the first legal challenge of United States government's no-fly list that has ever seen a courtroom. On the first day of trial, the judge learned that the plaintiff's daughter, scheduled to testify, was delayed because she had been denied boarding of her flight because she was put a Department of Homeland Security no-fly list. DHS staff deny this. The government's lawyers told the judge that the daughter is lying. The airline provided documentation of the DHS no-fly order. The subject matter of this trial is intense---restriction of movement based on blacklists---but there's no sign of an end to the jaw-dropping entertainment."
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Wade Hicks Jr. got a standby flight on an Air Force jet from Gulfport, Miss to visit his wife, a U.S. Navy lieutenant stationed in Japan. But when the jet set down in Hawai'i, he was not allowed to board it again. He had mysteriously been landed on the FBI's no-fly list, and was stranded in Hawai'i, unable to fly anywhere. Five days later, without comment, the FBI removed him from the list.
Those Feebs, huh?
From Audrey McAvoy in the AP:
"I said, `How am I supposed to get off this island and go see my wife or go home?' And her explanation was: `I don't know,'" Hicks said.
Hicks said he was shocked and thought they must have had the wrong person because he doesn't have a criminal record and recently passed an extensive background check in Mississippi to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
But the agent said his name, Social Security number and date of birth matched the person prohibited from flying, Hicks said. He wasn't told why and wondered whether his controversial views on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks played a role. Hicks said he disagrees with the 9/11 Commission's conclusions about the attacks.
Don't worry, they're on it. Oh, wait:
A Homeland Security spokesman referred questions to the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the report. A spokesman for the center declined to comment on Hicks' case. The government doesn't disclose who's on the list or why someone might have been placed on it.
No-fly list strands man in on island in Hawaii
(via Naked Capitalism)