Grounding the No-Fly List

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Terrorist watchlists – compilations of people the government deems “suspicious” – have expanded and spread since 9/11. Criteria for inclusion on the lists are secret, and the government has not provided effective procedures for people wrongly included to get their names off the lists.  Innocent people continue to be harassed and stigmatized.

The ACLU has made some progress in bringing accountability to the most notorious list, the so-called No-Fly list.  Compiled by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the No-Fly list has names of people suspected of being threats to aviation security and is used to detain or interrogate passengers whose names match those of thousands listed. Some people are stopped, questioned, and searched repeatedly because their names are the same or similar to names on the list – even after they have previously received clearance to fly. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Congress members John Lewis (D-GA) and Don Young (R-AK) all reported being stopped at airports.

In April 2004 in Seattle, the ACLU mounted the first nationwide, class-action lawsuit challenging the No-Fly list. The seven plaintiffs included an African-American soldier stationed in Alaska and a retired Presbyterian minister from Sammamish. Meanwhile, in response to a separate lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Northern California, the Justice Department released 300 pages of documents that revealed confusion, inter-agency squabbling, and subjective criteria in placing thousands of names on the list.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly found in January 2005 that the government’s failure to develop effective procedures for innocent people to get their names removed from the list did not rise to a violation of constitutional rights. However, the public scrutiny the ACLU brought to bear forced government officials to admit there indeed are problems in its handling of the No-Fly list and caused Congress to require TSA to improve its processes for removing innocent people from the list.

We are continuing to pressure the government to make good on its promises to fix the problems.  ACLU-WA board member Mike Kipling of the Summit Group and ACLU-WA staff attorney Aaron Caplan handled the lawsuit, along with National ACLU staff attorneys.

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Court Case: 
Green, et al v. TSA