President Right About Intelligence, Wrong About Watch Lists

January 5, 2010 6:04 pm

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Government Should Protect Civil Liberties While Protecting Safety, Says ACLU

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NEW YORK – President Obama today addressed airport security in remarks responding to the Christmas Day attack on a plane headed for Detroit.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union:

“We welcome President Obama’s emphasis on better information and intelligence sharing between government agencies. Our limited security resources should be invested where they will do the most good and have the best chance of thwarting attacks, and that means developing competent intelligence and law enforcement agencies that will stop terrorists before they get to the airport.

“However, we take issue with the president’s assertion that the terror watch list system isn’t broken. The current watch lists, which contain over a million names, are a mess, keeping innocent travelers from flying while failing to identify true terrorist threats. To be effective, no-fly lists must focus on true terrorists who pose a genuine threat to flight safety.

“We are also deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to subject the citizens of 14 nations who are flying to the United States to intensified screening. Using national origin or religion as proxies for suspicion is nothing less than racial profiling. Such profiling is ineffective, unconstitutional and counter to American values. Instead of profiling, we should be focusing on evidence-based, targeted investigations based on individualized suspicion, which would be both more consistent with our values and more effective at making us safer.

“The president spoke of using smarter screening technology at airports. We hope the administration recognizes that full body screening machines pose serious threats to privacy with uncertain benefits to our safety. The machines should only be used when individualized suspicion suggests they are the best method for screening specific passengers, not as an automatic procedure for all passengers.

“The government must indeed work zealously to make us as safe as possible and to take every reasonable step to make sure security breaches do not happen. But we need to act wisely, and that means not trading away our rights and liberties for ineffective policies.”

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