Secrecy, government watchlists, and due process: why you should careFriday, August 1, 2014 at 8:00 am by Christian Bashi
The Intercept recently obtained the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, which, among other things, reveals that American citizens can be placed on the government’s main terrorism database, as well as the no-fly list and selectee list, based on “reasonable suspicion.” The report was developed by 19 government agencies, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI, and offers a mere glimpse inside the overly broad and unnecessary surveillance practices of the American government.
In early July, journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain revealed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act enabled the monitoring of over 7,000 email addresses, many of whom belonging to American citizens that have led highly publicized, exemplary lives and have never before been suspected of terrorist activity. Because the FISC operates in complete secrecy—only the Justice Department and the FBI are permitted to attend its proceedings on domestic surveillance—it is impossible to assess how the court applies the standard of ‘probable cause’ in cases of suspected terrorism or espionage. But its rulings are notoriously one-sided: In its 35-year history, the court has approved 35,434 government requests for surveillance, while rejecting only 12.
Since the September 11 attacks, the number of individuals listed on the government’s no-fly list has grown from just 16 to over 75,000. Only one percent of those nominated are ever rejected from the list. Even when acquitted in court of a terrorism-related crime, individuals can be kept on the watchlist, or even be placed on it after the fact.
In The Secret Government Rulebook for Labeling You a Terrorist, The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux reveal how the Obama administration’s expansion of the government watchlist has not only broadened guidelines that determine who can be targeted, but has deemed it permissible to label an individual a “terrorist” target in the absence of irrefutable facts or concrete evidence.
According to the report, one can become labeled as a terrorist for an increasingly vast number of reasons, including having ever been accused of damaging government property, posting “suspicious” content on social media accounts, or having a relative on the list”
“There are severe consequences for people unfairly labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, which shares its watchlist data with local law enforcement, foreign governments, and ‘private entities.’ Once the U.S. government secretly labels you a terrorist or terrorist suspect, other institutions tend to treat you as one. It can become difficult to get a job (or simply to stay out of jail). It can become burdensome—or impossible—to travel. And routine encounters with law enforcement can turn into ordeals.”
Throughout the county, police are permitted to stop and frisk people under the legal standard of “reasonable suspicion.” Reasonable suspicion is a standard that does not rise to the probably cause necessary for warrants and arrests, but is based on nothing more than “reasonable and articulable” facts. While cities throughout the nation are fighting against the practice of stop and frisk by local law enforcement agencies, which are based upon the legal standard of “reasonable suspucion, one can be placed on a government watchlist under this same standard.
As more and more individuals are added to government watchlists every year, everyday Americans continue to feel the effects. Michael Hicks, a New Jersey Cub Scout, has been the victim of TSA pat-downs since the age of two because he shares the name of a “suspicious person.” In 2004, Senator Ted Kennedy was blocked for boarding airplanes on five occasions for the same reason. American Muslim Naveed Shinwari filed suit in April after allegedly being placed on the US no-fly list after declining to become an FBI informant.
On June 26, 2014, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown ruled that that government’s practice of adding people to a no-fly list is unconstitutional, as it gives no way in which individuals can contest the decision. The original lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 13 U.S. citizens that were placed on the list without notice and barred from boarding flights. Among those affected include four American military veterans. None of them were ever charged with terrorism-related offenses. In her opinion, Judge Brown called the procedures for finding out whether a person is on the list and why “wholly ineffective” and creates a “high risk of erroneous deprivation” of citizens’ rights. She continues by stating that international travel is a “necessary aspect of liberties sacred to a free society.”
While national security should always rank among the government’s highest priorities, it should never come at the cost of American constitutional rights. We must be able to freely share our thoughts and criticism of the state on the Internet without fear of being unfairly targeted by one of the countless government surveillance programs that scour the web. Take advantage of the August recess by contacting your representatives in Congress, urging them to take a stand against the expansion of the watchlist system and the inherent injustice of violating American constitutional rights.