Published on Tuesday, April 6, 2004 by Reuters
ACLU Sues U.S. Government Over 'No-Fly' List
by Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON - Seven Americans filed a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday to challenge the U.S. government's "no-fly" list that stops suspected terrorists from boarding planes.
All seven claim they have been wrongly placed on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's "no-fly" list because their names are similar or identical to names on the list. The lawsuit demands that the government remove their names so they can travel on planes without being interrogated and searched.
The seven plaintiffs, who range from a college student to a woman in the military to a retired minister, joined in the lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration .
"This case is about innocent people who found out that their government considers them potential terrorists," said Reginald Shuford of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit.
The no-fly list has grown in importance after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings. The TSA compiles the list and distributes it to airlines which are instructed to stop or conduct extra searches of people whose names match the list as they could pose a potential threat to aviation.
"Individuals whom the TSA concedes are not security threats continue to be identified on the no-fly list," the ACLU wrote in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle.
"Passengers have no meaningful opportunity to clear their names and avoid being subjected to these delays, searches and stigma virtually every time they fly."
Shuford, the lead lawyer in the case, said the lawsuit aims to force the government to create a way to remove people from the list once they have proven they are innocent.
"The worst thing of all, beyond the stigma, is that there's no way at all to clear one's name from the no-fly list once you're placed on it," Shuford told a news conference.
TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield agreed that the system needed to be changed to better respect privacy and provide a way to get peoples' names off the list.
The TSA is creating a new system, which is opposed by advocacy groups which say it violates privacy, to replace the no-fly list.
David Fathi, a plaintiff in the suit, said he has been stopped at airports several times since 2003. He said airline officials said his name matches one on the no-fly list.
Fathi, a lawyer who works for the ACLU, said he had appealed to the TSA to get his name off the list.
"Even after obtaining a letter of clearance from the Transportation Security Administration I am still subject to enhanced searches, interrogations and detention, all due to the no-fly list," Fathi said.
"I am not a hijacker. I am not a terrorist. The government has no reason to put my name on a list of suspected terrorists."
The lawsuit claims the list violates constitutional rights of due process and against unreasonable search and seizure.
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