Bloated and Ineffective Watch Lists Should be Scrapped

September 9, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU calls for common sense approach to security that respects the innocence of travelers

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WASHINGTON, DC – As the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection holds a hearing today on cleaning up the watch lists, the American Civil Liberties Union calls for congressional action to scrap the current approach to airline security in favor of systems that are far more effective, and, at the same time, protect innocent Americans from the immeasurable hassles and frustration of being swept up erroneously by the watch lists. Currently, the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) is charged with maintaining a series of lists that, in theory, contain names of suspected threats to American security. In July, the ACLU estimated that the watch lists grew to over 1 million records.

“The watch lists that are supposed to keep America safe have grown so large, they have actually become impediments to security,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Members of Congress, airline pilots, nuns, even Nelson Mandela, have found themselves swept up on the watch lists. Americans aren’t being fooled into a false sense of security by these out of control watch lists – they deserve a more credible approach to our nation’s safety.”

The ACLU calls for the following measures to be taken:
i) a dramatic downsizing of the terrorist watch lists to contain only names for whom there are credible evidence of terrorist ties or activities;
ii) implementation of a true redress process with full due process rights so that innocent people who find themselves mistakenly on the lists can be taken off – and stay off;
iii) a complete overhaul of the computer databases used to house the watch lists.

“When TSA screeners need to be on the lookout for over 1 million potential terrorist threats, there’s no way they can be doing actual security work effectively,” added Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “These lists divert limited resources away from providing real security, while providing no recourse for the innocent victims caught in the dragnet of suspicion. Congress should continue to investigate and find an approach to airline security that is both effective for our nation’s safety and respects the freedom and liberty of innocent travelers.”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania recently filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Erich Scherfen and his wife, Rabina Tareen, who have both been wrongly placed on the terrorist watch list. Scherfen, a decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf War and a pilot for a regional commuter airline, has received no explanation for having been placed on the list, as his inquiries have been deposited into the black hole the government seems to throw all complaints of this nature into.

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