ACLU Calls for Overhaul of Aviation Watch Lists in Wake of "60 Minutes" Report

October 6, 2006 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union called today for the government to shut down its current, fatally flawed aviation watch lists and instead focus on known threats to aviation. The call came in response to a “60 Minutes” report on the matter scheduled to be aired on CBS this Sunday.

“Aggrieved citizens have been complaining about these problems for half a decade now, and the government still has not found a way to make these lists effective and fair,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “Enough is enough. Until the government can figure out a way to create a real list of genuine terrorists, they are hurting Americans instead of protecting them.”

“60 Minutes” actually obtained a copy of the secret aviation watch list and was able to examine it. According to a CBS written report and excerpts from the upcoming “60 Minutes” broadcast, the list:

  • includes numerous names of people who are dead, in prison, or are international dignitaries, such as the president of Bolivia;
  • includes numerous common names such as “Robert Johnson;”
  • contains 119,000 names (44,000 on the “no-fly” list and 75,000 on a “selectee” list of people who are given extra security); and
  • has resulted in many ordinary, innocent individuals being pulled aside and interrogated, sometimes for hours, nearly every time they go to the airport.

CBS also echoed the fact – long pointed out by the ACLU – that on top of all these problems, the list does not even include the names of many of the worst suspected terrorists because the security agencies do not want to share them outside the government. For example, the suspects in the “liquid bomb” plot in the United Kingdom earlier this year were not on the list even though they had been under surveillance for over a year.

“These lists are virtually worthless. They don’t contain the names of the greatest threats to aviation and are bloated with tens of thousands of names that result in hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans being repeatedly delayed or denied the chance to fly,” said Tim Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Until Homeland Security can figure out a way to create a genuine, narrow, targeted list of real terrorists rather than harming innocent people, Congress needs to shut this monstrosity down.”

“This bloated disaster is the worst of both worlds for Americans,” Steinhardt added. “Americans are losing their privacy and losing their right to travel, with no due process protections for innocent people who are caught up by it – and it’s all for nothing since these lists are doing little to make us safer.”

A complete ACLU background analysis of the five-year failure of the no-fly lists is available at

The ACLU’s comments to TSA on its Secure Flight program and watch lists are available at

Testimony by the ACLU’s Sparapani on airline security is online at

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in National Security

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About National Security

National Security issue image

The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.