ACLU Files First Nationwide Challenge to "No-Fly" List, Saying Government List Violates Passengers' Rights

April 6, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – A member of the military, a retired Presbyterian minister and a college student are among seven U.S. citizens who have joined the first nationwide, class-action challenge to the government’s “”No-Fly”” list filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“”This case is about innocent people who found out that their government considers them potential terrorists,”” said Reginald T. Shuford, an ACLU senior staff attorney who is lead counsel in the case. “”For our clients and thousands like them, getting on a plane means repeated delays and the stigma of being singled out as a security threat in front of their family, their fellow passengers and the flight crew,”” Shuford added. “”What’s worse, these passengers have no idea why they have been placed on the No-Fly list and no way to clear their names.””

The ACLU lawsuit, filed today in federal district court in Seattle, was announced at news conferences in Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Transportation Security Administration Director David M. Stone and their respective agencies.

The No-Fly list is compiled by the TSA and distributed to all airlines with instructions to stop or conduct extra searches of people suspected of being threats to aviation. Many innocent travelers who pose no safety risk whatsoever are stopped and searched repeatedly.

The ACLU is asking the court to declare that the No-Fly list violates airline passengers’ Constitutional rights to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and to due process of law under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The ACLU is also asking the TSA to develop satisfactory procedures that will allow innocent people to fly without being treated as potential terrorists and subjected to humiliation and delays.

The individual plaintiffs named in the class-action lawsuit are:

  • Michelle D. Green , 36, a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force;
  • David Nelson , 34, an attorney from Belleville, Illinois;
  • John Shaw , 74, a retired Presbyterian minister, from Sammamish, Washington;
  • David C. Fathi , 41, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, D.C.;
  • Mohamed Ibrahim , 51, a Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia;
  • Alexandra Hay , 22, a student at Middlebury College in Vermont who is studying abroad in Paris; and
  • Sarosh Syed , 26, a Special Projects Coordinator at the ACLU of Washington in Seattle.

“”I am joining this lawsuit today because I have been publicly humiliated and ostracized due to the government’s mistake about my identity,”” said Michelle D. Green, a Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force who has served for 16 years. “”As someone who serves her country and obeys the laws of the land, I was shocked to learn I was on the No-Fly list. I was even more disturbed to find that there is no way to get off the list.””

The individuals represented in the lawsuit, the ACLU said in legal papers, “”are innocent of any wrongdoing and pose no threat to aviation security.”” Indeed, even after several obtained letters from the TSA stating that they were not a threat, they were still subject to delays and the stigma of enhanced searches, interrogations and detentions.

The No-Fly list has been the subject of intense media scrutiny. Yet the TSA denied its existence until November 2002, shortly before the ACLU of Northern California filed a Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of two local anti-war activists who were told they were on such a list. When the government failed to respond, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in April 2003 and obtained documents that reveal a shoddy process in which government agents expressed uncertainty about how the lists should be shared. The documents also failed to answer basic questions about the No-Fly list, including how names are selected for the list. For more information on the documents the ACLU obtained, go to /nofly

Many passengers on the No-Fly list have expressed concern that they may have been singled out because of their ethnicity, religion or political activity. Their concern is heightened by the fact that the lists appear to have been shared widely among U.S. law enforcement agencies, internationally and with the U.S. military.

Attorneys in the case are Shuford and Catherine Kim of the national ACLU; Aaron Caplan of the ACLU of Washington; Jayashri Srikantiah of the ACLU of Northern California; and cooperating attorney Michael E. Kipling of the Summit Law Group in Seattle.

The ACLU complaint in today’s case is online at

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