What You Should Know About America’s Secret Watchlists

The U.S. government is blacklisting people as terrorism suspects based on secret standards and secret evidence. People on government watchlists are questioned, harassed, detained, and even barred indefinitely from flying — and the government denies them any meaningful way to correct errors and clear their names. In an era of unprecedented government secrecy, every American should know this: The U.S. government’s massive and secret watchlist system is fundamentally broken.

What Americans don’t know about this system far eclipses what we do know. But what we do know is cause for real alarm. About one million names are on the government’s master watchlist; many have been added to both it and subsidiary watchlists based on mistakes or incorrect information. And as the briefing paper we are releasing today makes clear, the consequences of blacklisting for individuals’ personal and professional lives can be devastating.

U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences >>

To illustrate just how terrible those consequences can be, we enlisted the help of award-winning artist Jen Sorenson. Jen’s cartoon depicts the experience of someone on the No Fly List. All of it actually happened. It is based on the accounts of the ACLU’s clients — who include four military veterans — in our constitutional challenge to the No Fly List.

Click on the image to see the full version.

I’ll be in federal court in Oregon on Monday on behalf of those clients to argue that the “redress” procedure for the No Fly List violates the Constitution’s due process guarantees for several reasons: The government won’t confirm that our clients are watchlisted, it won’t provide any reason for stigmatizing them as suspected terrorists, and it won’t give them an opportunity to challenge those reasons and demonstrate their innocence before a neutral decision-maker.  We’ll keep you posted about the outcome.

In the meantime, we’ve put together a Know Your Rights resource for U.S. citizens and permanent residents who believe they have been placed on the No Fly List. These materials include procedures for people stuck abroad to follow so they can come home. (The procedures were put in place by the government only after we filed our No Fly List challenge.)

The ACLU has deep concerns about the adequacy of the government’s process and about how the government takes advantage of the leverage it has against even wholly innocent people it adds to the No Fly List, including by pressuring them to become government informants. So we’re also asking people who believe they’re on the No Fly List to help the ACLU monitor the government’s conduct by filling out this survey.

You can help by circulating all these materials as broadly as you can. The more we all know about the government’s unfair watchlist system, the more people wrongly caught up in that system are able to assert their rights, and the more the ACLU can continue to hold the government accountable for rights violations, the better off we all are.

Learn more about the no-fly list and other civil liberties issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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Vicki B.

I WANNA be on a no-fly list, b/c I hate the way TSA treats me the same as if I would kill my daughter's dad. He died on Sep-11, and I've been treated as if they believe I could do something that horrible.
It's monuMENTALLY disturbing and distressing. One time I failed to hide it and burst into uncontrollable tears. Asking them why they weren't doing all this stuff beFORE Eric and all those other people were killed. Because it would have saved me the absolute horrific memory I'll always have of looking my 15 y.o daughter in the eye and telling her that her dad was never coming home again.
She shattered when she got the news. I saw it happening in her eyes. But it wasn't long before her body got the message. She fell to the ground in inconsolable tears and has been that way to some degree since she got the news.
Now why would I want to do that to another person by killing someone? Gimme a break.

Vicki B.

They alREADY tried to do that with me. They wanted to take me to a room and question me for 30 minutes and that's why I broke down the way I did. I knew I'd miss my plane but that was secondary to the fact that just b/c I was wearing a leg brace with magnets in it (they were trying magnet therapy for my gunshot wound to see if it would reduce the pain) the TSA decided I must have something HIDDEN inside it or some CHEMICAL in it that they needed to test.
I have no ability to handle the fact that there's another person in this world who thinks I would do to some other family what was done to my daughter.
First they use torture and ruin the possibility that any of the living jerks who DID help with Sep-11 will ever go to jail for it, and then they act like a surviving relative of a Sep-11 victim is "probably a terrorist."
I can't STAND them anymore. I'm so upset about both those things - TSA and torture ruining the prosecution of the guilty terrorists that I can't stand it.


Sounds like the TSA should be the defendant in a defamation lawsuit.


Sounds like we live in some kind of unfree Communist country. THIS is what they do in God-less Communist countries

from Richard, V...

I have very little to say on this issue because I honestly don't know where I stand on it. My best friend died on September 11, I was the last person who ever spoke to him. All my thoughts of this topic are filled with the memories of my friend, who paid the ultimate price for the sins of Big Brother. (This is a repeating pattern through decades of history.)
But then I noticed in the cartoon she mentioned that veterans are on this list. No idea if it's true, I haven't seen this list but my initial reaction to it if it's true is to think 'Thanks for that and you're quite welcome; in fact I rather enjoyed trudging through rice paddies in thigh-high water that housed leeches and other exotic insect life. Tripping a wire that tore apart my lower leg. Being hit with enemy fire and watching good friends die. For what did I do this,' I wonder? 'So years later the same system of people who sent me there could find me suspicious for terrorist activity?'
We were fighting against terrorism except in Nam it went by the name 'communism.' We thought we were putting a check on the spread of Communism by fighting the VC, stopping them from spreading into South Vietnam and beyond.
I find it insulting that the government would think any veterans should be on that list.

Rudyard Kipling said it best: Making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep, is cheaper than them uniforms and they're starvation cheap.

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