Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Terrorist watch list hits one million..

This is from the ACLU. At the end of this post I have posted another from SFgate.
The second article provides an example of the difficulties the list can cause innocent people who may happen to have a name identical to or very much like one of those on the list. The one million figure does not mean there are a million individuals on the list as many names are aliases of one and the same individual. Even so the list is quite large and no doubt contains many names of people who have no or little connection to terrorism.

Terrorist Watch List Hits One Million Names (7/14/2008)
ACLU launches online watch list complaint form
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org
WASHINGTON, DC - The nation's terrorist watch list has hit one million names, according to a tally maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union based upon the government's own reported numbers for the size of the list.
"Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other 'suspicious characters,' with names like Robert Johnson and Gary Smith, have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress needs to fix it, the Terrorist Screening Center needs to fix it, or the next president needs to fix it, but it has to be done soon."
Fredrickson and Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, spoke today along with two victims of the watch list: Jim Robinson, former assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division who flies frequently and is often delayed for hours despite possessing a governmental security clearance and Akif Rahman, an American citizen who has been detained and interrogated extensively at the U.S.-Canada border when traveling for business.
"America's new million record watch list is a perfect symbol for what's wrong with this administration's approach to security: it's unfair, out-of-control, a waste of resources, treats the rights of the innocent as an afterthought, and is a very real impediment in the lives of millions of travelers in this country," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program. "It must be fixed without delay."
"Putting a million names on a watch list is a guarantee that the list will do more harm than good by interfering with the travel of innocent people and wasting huge amounts of our limited security resources on bureaucratic wheel-spinning," said Steinhardt. "I doubt this thing would even be effective at catching a real terrorist."
Controls on the watch lists called for by the ACLU included:
due process
a right to access and challenge data upon which listing is based
tight criteria for adding names to the lists
rigorous procedures for updating and cleansing names from the lists.
The ACLU also called for the president - if not this one then the next - to issue an executive order requiring the lists to be reviewed and limited to only those for whom there is credible evidence of terrorist ties or activities. The review should be concluded within 3 months.
In February, the ACLU unveiled an online "watch list counter," which has tracked the size of the watch list based on a September 2007 report by the inspector general of the Justice Department, which reported that it was growing by 20,000 names per month.
The ACLU is also announcing today the creation of an online form where victims of the watch list can tell us their stories. We will collect those stories and use them (with permission) in various ways to advance our advocacy. A link to the form is available online at www.aclu.org/watchlist or directly at www.aclu.org/watchlistform.
The watch list counter and other materials are available at: www.aclu.org/watchlist

Here is the other article:


Prosecutor flagged by US terror watch list
By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer
Monday, July 14, 2008

(07-14) 13:26 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP) --
The Justice Department's former top criminal prosecutor says the government's terror watch list likely has caused thousands of innocent Americans to be questioned, searched or otherwise hassled.
Former Assistant Attorney General Jim Robinson would know: he's one of them.
Robinson joined another mistaken-identity American and the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday to urge fixing the list that's supposed to identify suspected terrorists.
"It's a pain in the neck, and significantly interferes with my travel arrangements," said Robinson, the head of the Justice Department's criminal division during the Clinton administration. He believes his name matches that of someone who was put on the list in early 2005, and is routinely delayed while flying — despite having his own government top-secret security clearances renewed last year.
"I suppose if I were convinced that America is a safer place because I get hassled at the airport, I might put up with it," Robinson said. "But I doubt it."
He added: "I expect my story is similar to hundreds of thousands of people who are on this list who find themselves inconvenienced."
The government calls its watch list one of the most effective tools in its fight against terrorism. It was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to consolidate 12 existing lists and make sure no terrorists slipped through the cracks — whether when entering the country or if otherwise stopped for questioning. Last year, congressional investigators found "general agreement that the watch list has helped to combat terrorism."
Other audits of the watch list over the last several years, however, have concluded that it has mistakenly flagged innocent people whose names are similar to those on it. More than 30,000 airline passengers had asked the Homeland Security Department to clear their names from the list as of October 2006. Additionally, as many as 20 suspected terrorists were left off the list as of last year due to a technology glitch.
Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center that maintains the list, said the government is working to fix the gaps.
"We strive to have the watch list contain all appropriately suspected terrorists who represent a threat to the U.S., but only appropriately suspected terrorists," Kolton said.
The ACLU predicted the watch list would include 1 million names as early as Monday. The civil liberties group reached that number by citing the 700,000 records on the watch list as of last September and adding 20,000 names each month, as forecast by the Justice Department's inspector general.
Kolton disputed that number, however, saying that only about 400,000 individuals are on the list — with the rest being records of aliases or other identifiers for those same people. Kolton said that 95 percent of the people on the list are not Americans or legal U.S. residents — and most aren't even in the country.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigations arm of Congress, similarly concluded last year that the total number of records on the watch list "does not represent the total number of individuals," saying it contains multiple records for the same person.
For some Americans whose names match those on the list, being delayed or detained for extra screening isn't just a hassle — it's frightening.
Chicago-area computer consultant Akif Rahman, who was born in Springfield, Ill., said he has been detained at least seven times after traveling abroad. During one such incident in May, he said, he was held for five hours, shackled to a chair and kicked by a Customs Service agent after being stopped at a U.S. checkpoint on the Canadian border.
"I was fearful for my own safety and that of my family," said Rahman, who is suing the government to have his identity cleared from the watch list. "I simply could not believe that I, a born U.S. citizen, was going though this experience simply re-entering my own country."
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