Frequently Asked Questions About the No-Fly List
What is the "No Fly List"?
Congress directed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to identify people "who may be a threat to civil aviation or national security." Airlines are required to check whether a passenger is on the TSA's list before printing a boarding pass. If a passenger is on the list, the airline is required to take "appropriate action," including keeping the person off the plane and calling the police.
What is the "Selectee List"?
Most airports reserve one of their security checkpoints for intensive passenger screening, typically involving hand-held metal detectors and opening of carry on bags. Some people are selected at random for enhanced screening. In addition, the TSA maintains a "Selectee List" (sometimes called the "Automatic Selectee List") of people who are automatically and intentionally selected for enhanced screening every time they fly. When a person is selected for enhanced screening either at random or intentionally, the boarding pass will typically have the letters "SSSS" stamped on it.
What is the difference between the No Fly List and the Selectee List?
People on the No Fly List are not allowed to board airplanes and will not be given a boarding pass. People on the Selectee List will be given a boarding pass and allowed to fly, but only after undergoing heightened security screening. People who are mistaken for persons on the No Fly List or Selectee List will be allowed to fly, but only after a delay and usually after enhanced screening.
How are names added to the No Fly List and Selectee List?
Because the government keeps the information secret, the public has no way to know how the TSA decides that a person "may be a threat to civil aviation or national security." The ACLU of Northern California is pursuing a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain more information about the selection criteria. Click here for more information.
How many names are on the No Fly List and Selectee List?
The exact number constantly fluctuates and is also a secret. However, the TSA says that tens of thousands of names are on these lists.
Are the No Fly List and Selectee List accurate?
These watch lists are inaccurate in at least three ways:
First, it is virtually impossible to know in advance whether a person is a terrorist. Many of the Sept. 11 hijackers, for example, were in the country lawfully and were not on any of the watch lists that existed at the time. At the same time, the definition of the No Fly List - persons who "may" be a "risk" to civil aviation - is so broad that it is certain to include many people who pose no danger and have done nothing illegal. If the government has probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime, it should arrest and prosecute that person. But the people on the No Fly List and Selectee List are not charged with any crime, indicating that the government does not have probable cause to believe they are criminals.
Second, the lists contain names that are not linked to a physical description, birth date, or other unique identifier that allows airlines to easily determine whether the passenger at the counter is the person on the list. Large numbers of people have been delayed, searched, or interrogated at airports because they are "false positives" who have names that are the same or similar to names on the list. Senator Ted Kennedy is the most famous false positive, because he was repeatedly delayed at airports because someone else identified only as "T. Kennedy" was on the list.
Third, the TSA has not been accurately keeping track of which people are NOT on the watch lists. As a result, false positives undergo delays and anxiety again and again, even after they have been cleared to fly on one or more occasions.
How can I find out if I am on the No Fly List or Selectee List?
The government will not say who is or is not on these lists. People first learn that they are on the lists - or are mistaken for someone on the lists - when they encounter problems at the airport. If you are ultimately allowed onto a plane, this means you are not on the No Fly List (although you may be on the Selectee List). Typically, affected people cannot use the Internet or the airport kiosks for automated check-in, and instead must report to the ticket counter in person. Airline personnel sometimes, but not always, are willing to tell passengers whether they are on a list or what part of their name matches someone on the list.
How can I stop being confused with people who are on the No Fly List or Selectee List?
The Office of Transportation Security Redress within the TSA is responsible for assisting passengers who have been delayed or detained because they are mistaken for a person on a watch list. By sending a Traveler Identity Verification Form (TIVF), some people have been able to reduce the confusion between themselves and persons on the lists. However, others have found that the procedure is not fully effective. Information about the process, including copies of the TIVF, are available here.
How can I get my name removed from the No Fly List or Selectee List?
In December 2004, Congress directed the TSA to establish a procedure to allow persons to appeal their placement on the No Fly List or Selectee List. If you believe you are actually on the list (and are not simply mistaken for someone on the list), please contact the ACLU to discuss the methods for appeal.
Are the No Fly List and Selectee List constitutional?
The ACLU believes that the entire system of watch lists is unconstitutional, because it treats people as guilty without a trial, and deprives them of their freedoms without due process. The system will not make us safer, because it is an inherently inaccurate and ineffective security method.
What is the ACLU doing about this?
In April 2004, the National ACLU and the ACLU of Washington brought the first national lawsuit to challenge any aspect of the No Fly List system. Green v. TSA was brought on behalf of "false positive" passengers who had no method of resolving problems even after they had been cleared for flight. The lawsuit and the related publicity led Congress in December 2004 to pass a new law that directs the TSA to maintain its lists in a manner that "will not produce a large number of false positives," and to create an appeal system for persons wrongly placed on the lists.
The ACLU is monitoring how TSA implements this new law. We want to hear about your experiences with the new process. The best way to get the information to us is our online complaint form. Click here for details.
We especially want to hear from you if:
• You submitted a TIVF but TSA took no action.
• You submitted a TIVF, the TSA took some action, but you are still having problems obtaining boarding passes at airports.
• You believe you are actually included on one of the watch lists (and are not simply a false positive who is being confused with someone on the list), and you want to appeal your listing.