Tag: no-fly list

WaPo on No-Fly: Black Hole to Quicksand

I wrote here Monday, and the Washington Post editorialized today, about the lawsuit in which the ACLU is representing a group of people who believe they have been wrongly placed on the government’s no-fly list. I find the Post’s editorial needlessly equivocal and muddied.

The plaintiffs “have a point — to a point,” says the Post. “[T]he list is essentially a black hole.” But it never says how their suit overshoots the mark.

When someone vindicating a constitutional right has a point, he or she has a point—period. Due process is a right prescribed by the Constitution, not something to dither about like Hamlet.

Hewing to a reasoned-sounding middle ground, the Post says, “There are legitimate law enforcement reasons for keeping the list secret: Disclosure of such information would tip off known or suspected terrorists, who could then change their habits or identities to escape government scrutiny.”

Think this through. The no-fly list is self-revealing. Any terrorist who tries to fly and can’t is “tipped off” that he or she is a suspect. (Does it matter whether the list or something else prevented him or her from flying? No.) Said terrorist will take steps to evade the list or someone else will take over—terrorists are fungible. The benefit of secrecy is small to the point of superfluous.

The Post correctly states that “U.S. citizens who believe they are on the list because of bad information should have a chance to challenge that designation before an independent arbiter.” But then it goes all mealy: “A federal court may be an appropriate forum, if governed by procedural safeguards to protect national security information. Creating an independent review panel within the executive might also meet the need.”

The secrecy rationale is tiny. The federal courts have vast experience with issues of all sensitivities. Developing a new (suitably) ”independent” panel would be a mountainous chore. And the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers cuts strongly against the Post’s proposal.

This editorial’s “middle ground” looks a lot like quicksand—a lot like the black hole the no-fly list is.

No-Fly With Me

The ACLU is representing several plaintiffs in a recently filed lawsuit challenging the U.S. government’s ”No Fly” list. The video in this “Blog of Rights” post tells the story of two of the plaintiffs. “I wanna go home!” laughs U.S. Marine veteran Ayman Latif. “I wanna see my mom. I want her to see my babies.”

No-fly listing is a constitutional aberration in which the executive branch unilaterally imposes a disability on persons it selects using unpublished criteria. It often denies these individuals any recourse by obscuring the reasons why they aren’t permitted to fly. Bills in the House and Senate would extend the use of the “no-fly” list to use in gun control.

There is no way to clear up the “no-fly” status of innocent travelers once and for all. The DHS’ Traveler Redress Inquiry Program may be good for unraveling mistaken name matching, but evidently it hasn’t cured the problem for these travelers.

No-fly listing is also a weak security measure. It’s CYA—“See? We did something!”—but it creates a class of people too dangerous to let fly but not so dangerous that they are sought for arrest.

There is some merit to watch- and no-fly-listing in the international context, where the U.S. is often unable to pursue threatening individuals. But generally, as I wrote in my book, Identity Crisis, “this procedure is like posting a most-wanted list at a post office and then waiting for criminals to come to the post office. It is a singularly lazy way to ‘pursue’ terrorists.”

Another security demerit: No-fly listing gives away the store. It tells any terrorist on a list that he or she is a suspect.

Since 9/11, airports and air travel have been something of a constitution-free zone. Exigency in the first year after that stunning attack may have justified some of the practices begun then, but we are secure and confident enough today to adhere to the Constitution. This lawsuit may vindicate due process values and the important liberty interest in freedom of movement.