Denver Post : After 9/11, stuck on terror watch lists

Saturday, August 16, 2014

After 9/11, stuck on terror watch lists

By The Denver Post Editorial Board | August 16, 2014

In the nearly 13 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has become clear there is a new normal in the U.S. where security is concerned.

Show your driver's license. Take off your shoes. Don't even think about a bomb joke.

One might think this post-9/11 era has gone on long enough to allow authorities to remedy the deficiencies that have emerged in measures designed to keep citizens safe.

Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case with the government's secret terrorist watch list and no-fly list.

Recent lawsuits, including one filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union, have shed more light on what appear to be unconstitutional practices.

Clearly it's time for that to change.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of five people of Muslim faith who contend the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has illegally blocked them from becoming naturalized citizens or permanent residents without telling them why.

They've been "blacklisted," according to the ACLU, because of their suspected inclusion on the terrorist watch list, a designation they have no meaningful way to challenge.

The list has as many as 1 million names on it, the lawsuit said, and has broad parameters for inclusion. An individual need not even be suspected of taking part in unlawful activity or belong to a suspicious organization to make the list, the lawsuit said.

And getting off the list? Good luck.

Several government reviews in recent years document the lax practices in taking people off terrorist watchlists.

In a separate matter, a federal judge in Oregon ruled the Department of Homeland Security had to do a better job of satisfying the requirements of due process when it came to appeals of inclusion on the list.

The government must, the judge said, reveal the unclassified information supporting the listing. And even if the material is classified, people deserve to know the nature and extent of it.

That seems reasonable given the restrictions involved. Those on the lists report being prevented from traveling on commercial airlines, being routinely detained, or being subjected to additional screenings that sometimes causes them to miss their flights.

Balancing civil liberties and security is a high-stakes challenge. But clearly there are ways to do a better job of protecting — while honoring — the principles this nation was founded upon.