Preliminary Congressional Investigation Finds Watch Lists Plagued with Systemic Flaws

For Immediate Release

ACLU
Contact: 

Matthew Allee, (202) 675-2312
media@dcaclu.org or
Will Matthews, (212) 549-2646
media@aclu.org

Preliminary Congressional Investigation Finds Watch Lists Plagued with Systemic Flaws

ACLU calls for lists to be scrapped and for DHS to approach airline security in reasonable and effective manor

WASHINGTON - In response to today's Wall Street Journal article on the flaws found in the terrorist watch lists by a preliminary congressional investigation, the American Civil Liberties Union calls on all presidential candidates, as well as current President Bush, to pledge to put a moratorium on the use of the lists unless major overhauls are made. The investigation found the current database system beleaguered with flaws and technological hurdles. Not only that, but the program being designed to replace the current database is facing similar systemic difficulties, while the contractors hired for its creation are struggling to move toward completion.

"The time for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to scrap their current approach to airline security is well overdue, now that the Terrorist Screening Center's terrorist watch lists have passed one million entries," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program. "The American people would be comforted if our presidential candidates denounced these burdensome practices. Senators McCain and Obama should declare a moratorium on the use of the lists unless drastic measures are taken to improve their accuracy, and protect innocent Americans hoping to travel without burden."

The ACLU calls for the following measures to be taken:

i) a dramatic downsizing of the terrorist watch lists to contain names limited to only those for whom there is credible evidence of terrorist ties or activities;

ii) implementation of a true redress process with full due process rights is created so that innocent people who find themselves mistakenly on the lists can be taken off - and stay off;

iii) a complete overhaul of the computer databases used to house the watch lists.

"Enough is enough," said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. "Watch list systems are worse than worthless. They create security risks by diverting scarce homeland security resources away from actual terrorists by focusing attention on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent travelers. Those innocent victims wrongly caught in the dragnet of suspicion are left without recourse to clear their good name. Upon completion of the investigation that uncovered all these deficiencies, Congress should publish all findings and recommend that DHS approach airline security in a manner that is both effective for our nation's security and respects the freedom and liberty of innocent travelers."

The ACLU of Pennsylvania this week filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Eric Scherfen and his wife, Rabina Tareen, who have both been wrongly placed on the terrorist watch list. Scherfen, a decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf War and a pilot for a regional commuter airline, has received no explanation for having been placed on the list, as his inquiries have seemingly been deposited into the black hole the government seems to throw all complaints of this nature into. His employer has suspended him without pay and he stands to be fired October 1 if he is unable to clear his name. Scherfen's case crystallizes the inherent problems with the terrorist watch list and the ways in which innocent Americans can be unjustly impacted.

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