“Terrorist watch” list hits 1 million

The government’s terrorist watch list has hit 1 million entries, according to figures released to USA Today—up 32% since 2007. The rise comes despite the removal of 33,000 entries last year by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center in an effort to purge the list of outdated information and remove people cleared in investigations.

It’s unclear how many individuals those 33,000 records represent—the center often uses multiple entries, or “identities,” for a person to reflect variances in name spellings or other identifying information. The remaining million entries represent about 400,000 individuals, according to the center. The new figures were provided by the TSC and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to requests from the newspaper.

People put on the watch list by intelligence and law enforcement agencies can be blocked from flying, stopped at borders or subjected to other scrutiny. About 95% of the people on the list are foreigners, the FBI says—although the list is a source of frequent complaints from US travelers.

In the past two years, 51,000 people have filed “redress” claims asserting they were wrongly included on the list, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In the big majority of cases reviewed so far, it has turned out that the petitioners were not actually on the list, most having been misidentified at airports. There have been 830 redress requests since 2005 where the person was confirmed to be on the list. Further review by the TSC led to the removal of 150, or 18% of them.

Tim Sparapani, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, says that without specific rules for who goes on the list, it’s too bloated to be effective. A 2007 Government Accountability Office audit said more needed to be done to ensure the list’s accuracy, but that it has “enhanced the US government’s counterterrorism efforts.” (USA Today, March 10)

See our last post on the surveillance state and the politics of the GWOT.

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