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The wrong stuff: what it takes to be a TSA terror suspect

ACLU files suit over no-fly list

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The plaintiffs' statements in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and the Transport Security Administration provides some useful clues about what it takes to make the grade as a dangerous terror suspect. Career USAF Master Sergeant and mother of three? Retired Presbyterian Minister? ACLU special projects co-ordinator with Pakistani-type name?

Well yes, that last one might not have come entirely as a surprise to you, but the ACLU has chosen its sample plaintiffs well. They are all American citizens who've experienced repeated delays and embarrassments because they are on the shady 'no fly' list distributed to US airlines by the TSA. No reason for their presence on this list is obtainable, and there would appear to be no easy mechanism for getting off it.

According to the statement of Rev John F Shaw (71), when he complained to the TSA's Ombudsman's office a TSA agent explained "that the list is computer-generated and linked to another database known as CAPPS." The CAPPS link is a strong signal that the no fly list will in the future be substantially expanded as the TSA expands its use of airline passenger data.

The statements also indicate that the TSA itself has no ready mechanism for getting people off the list. It seems to agree with some of the plaintiffs that they're false positives, but they keep getting the treatment on subsequent flights anyway. Two of the plaintiffs have actually been given letters from the TSA verifying their identity, but one of these still experiences problems. The second, student Alexandra Hay, was given a personal escort through Philadelphia Airport by the TSA along with the letter after the ACLU threatened to sue on her behalf.

Attorney David Nelson meanwhile reports he has been stopped over 40 times, and that other people called David Nelson, including the one who's a sitcom star, have had similar problems. The ACLU is asking that the court declare that the no-fly list violates passengers' constitutional rights to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and due process of law under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. ®

Related link ACLU launches suit

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