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Federal judge rules that the US government's terror watchlist violates the rights of those on it


The judge said that inclusion on the list was 'subjective'


A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government's terror watch list violates the constitutional rights of those on it. Judge Anthony Trenga from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia argued that the process for adding people to this list was "subjective."

What's the background?

This ruling came after twenty-three U.S. citizens sued the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) over their inclusion on this list. They argued that the methods the U.S. government used to determine who belonged on the list were inaccurate, and resulted in many people being erroneously included while actual terror threats were left off it. The plaintiffs said that they had "suffered a range of adverse consequences without a constitutionally adequate remedy" because of this.

The terror watch list, officially called the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), contains the names of more than 1 million people, roughly 4,600 of which were U.S. citizens as of 2017. U.S. government agencies use this database to determine who should get additional screening at airports (or if they can board planes at all), who can purchase firearms, or who is eligible for asylum in the United States.

The plaintiffs said that they were "routinely subjected to additional screening when they fly on a commercial airplane and when they enter the United States at a land border or port." None of them were determined to be currently on the No Fly List, which is managed separately.

What did the judge say?

"There is no evidence, or contention," Tenga wrote in his decision, "that any of these plaintiffs satisfy the definition of a 'known terrorist.' None have been convicted, charged or indicted for any criminal offense related to terrorism, or otherwise. Rather, Plaintiffs are included in the TSDB because they have been labeled as 'suspected terrorists,' a determination that this court has found 'to be based to a large extent on subjective judgements."

He also said that the TSC could use "a wide range of factors" to include someone on the list, including their "race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation."

Tenga concluded that, based on all these factors and what he determined to be insufficient safeguards for screening people being added to this list, that the TSDB violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The government will likely appeal Tenga's decision.

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