MLFA Joins 66 Orgs Calling for Reform of U.S. Watchlisting

DALLAS — Oct. 17, 2014 —  Muslim Legal Fund of America joined a coalition of more than 60 organizations in a letter to Department of Justice officials John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division, and Molly Moran, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, calling for a full public accounting of U.S. Government Watchlisting.

U.S. Government Watchlisting Violates Constitutional Rights, Discriminates Against Muslims

The coalition argues that the watchlist violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process by denying selectees the ability to challenge their inclusion on the list. The organizations also state that information recently learned about the administration of the list raises concerns over how individuals are chosen for inclusion.

In the letter, the coalition says, “the government’s self-mandated watchlisting guidance is riddled with loopholes and exceptions that permit watchlisting without even a showing of reasonable suspicion” and that “individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists.”

MLFA Executive Director Khalil Meek said that this level of civil liberty abuse opens the potential for federal agencies to use watchlisting to punish individuals for their First Amendment activities.

“With such a low standard for inclusion on the watchlist, the government can place you on the list based on your public comments on social media or in a letter to the editor,” said Meek. “This means that you could be barred from flying or be subjected to pre-flight humiliation based solely on your religious or political views.”

Meek said that two cases MLFA is currently supporting, Jamal Tarhuni v Holder, et al (District of Oregon 3:13-cv-00001) and Yonas Fikre v the Federal Bureau of Investigation, et al (District of Oregon 3:13-cv-899), are law suits in response to alleged civil liberty violations resulting from the beneficiaries’ inclusion on the No Fly List.

The FBI maintains the master watchlist, or Terrorism Screening Database, which is used to place individuals on the government’s No Fly List as well as the Selectee and Expanded Selectee Lists. While the No Fly List prohibits individuals from traveling by air, individuals on the Selectee and Expanded Selectee Lists must go through special security screening processes before boarding a flight.

Here are 10 facts about U.S. government watchlisting highlighted in the letter:

  1. The watchlist labels thousands of innocent people, including U.S. citizens, as suspected terrorists.
  2. Watchlisting an individual requires only one uncorroborated source of information.
  3. The source used for justifying inclusion on the watchlist can include First Amendment activities, such as Facebook and Twitter posts.
  4. Individuals can be watchlisted if they are “suspected of being suspected.”
  5. Loopholes and exceptions permit watchlisting without showing reasonable suspicion.
  6. Individuals can be watchlisted based on their associations, even if the nature of those associations are harmless.
  7. Individuals can be watchlisted for their political activism or religious observances.
  8. The watchlisting system is unreliable and discriminatory, especially against Muslims.
  9. There is no meaningful mechanism for redress once an individual is watchlisted.
  10. Watchlisting diverts attention from real threats, making America less safe.

Muslim Legal Fund of America is a national charity that funds legal work and programs to defend Muslims against injustice in American courtrooms, prisons, and communities. Established in 2001, MLFA has defended freedom of speech, association, religion, the right to a fair trial, and other constitutional rights. To learn more about MLFA, visit their website at www.mlfa.org.

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