Victory in Legal Fight Over Travel 'Watch List'
By Luke Willson
April 30, 2008
For Wheaton resident Akifur Rahman, what should have been a simple security check at the Detroit-Windsor border crossing became a nightmare. While his family waited for three hours in another room, Rahman was detained, painfully handcuffed to a chair, kicked and questioned.
Homeland Security Ordered to Verify 'Watch List'
Rahman and nine other plaintiffs, who have been wrongfully detained at national entry points, have been vindicated in what may prove to be a landmark decision. Chicago judge Sidney Schenkier ordered the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to say whether the plaintiffs' names are on the Terrorist Screening Database.
In the past, the release of this information has been deemed a breach of state secrets and a threat to national security. However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) hopes to prove that the harassment suffered by the plaintiffs is a breach of their Fourth Amendment rights, which requires reasonable search and seizures.
"If he [Rahman] wasn't on the list, why was he getting handcuffed to a chair?" said Adam Schwartz, a lawyer with the ACLU. "If he's not on the list, the things that have happened to him are completely inappropriate."
Flawed "Watch List"
The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center administers a database of over 200,000 names who are seen as having "any degree of terrorism nexus." The lawsuit brought by the ACLU has focused on two major flaws of the system: the classification of individuals as dangerous when they pose no real threat and the misidentification of individuals, resulting in detention for no reason.
Recent reports by the Department of Justice's Inspector General found other problems with the database, including inadequate procedures of verification and insufficient training that has led to a system rife with errors.
Greater Goverment Accountability Sought
"The court was right in stating that it should not uncritically accept the goverment's assertion of state secrets privilege," said CAIR-Chicago Civil Rights Director Christina Abraham. "The government should not be able to infringe on the rights of its citizens, and then escape accountability by refusing to be transparent. We hope that this decision causes the government to reapproach the way it has been handling these issues."