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Inappropriate Government Watchlisting Threatens Innocent Lives
Posted on Aug 31, 2014
“A single, uncorroborated source of information—including a Facebook or Twitter post”—is enough to put innocent foreigners and Americans on a watchlist of “known” and “suspected” terrorists shared with foreign and domestic agencies as well as private contractors, ACLU legislative counsel Arjun Sethi writes at The Guardian on Saturday.
Roughly 40 percent of the 680,000 people on the FBI master list have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation,” continues Sethi, quoting an article published by The Intercept. Though those people have no connection to a designated terrorist group, the government still instructs its employees and everyone else with access to the list to regard them as suspected terrorists.
Those numbers are largely the result of the loose standard used by the government—so-called reasonable suspicion—to determine who can be watchlisted, Sethi writes. The designation requires neither “concrete evidence” nor “irrefutable evidence.” Officials are simply permitted to make the judgment on the basis of their experience. Courts have held that “avoiding eye contact with an officer, traveling alone, and traveling late at night … all amount to reasonable suspicion,” Sethi notes.
What results is a circular logic in which individuals can be flagged “if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists.”
A watchlist bursting with innocent people distracts officials from genuine threats, Sethi concludes. It creates unnecessary stigmas, alienates people from law enforcement, and threatens constitutional rights to travel freely and enjoy liberty and due process of the law.
“You can’t help but wonder,” he asks, “are you already on the watchlist?
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly
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