“This is a lawsuit on behalf of 13 U.S. citizens who were banned from flying without explanation. No government entity has explained why, and this is unconstitutional,” said Nusrat Choudhury, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer to Mint Press News.
The ACLU filed the first ever lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) No Fly List this week. The federal lawsuit was filed in Oregon on behalf of 13 U.S. citizens, including four military veterans who have been inexplicably barred from boarding commercial airline flights.
The legal challenge was originally filed June 2010 by the ACLU and its affiliates, but has faced significant challenges along the way. In May 2011, a district court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
After an ACLU appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Portland heard the case on May 11, 2012, deciding to reverse the lower court’s decision two months later by allowing the current case to move forward. Choudhury and the ACLU legal team are preparing for upcoming hearings.
The ACLU claims that the government violated the Fifth Amendment due process rights of the 13 Americans and possibly hundreds of others by placing individuals on the No Fly List without charge or explanation. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have refused to give plaintiffs any after-the-fact explanation or a hearing that would allow them to clear their names.
“The secrecy around the list is part of what we are challenging. We don’t know how big the list is or how many Americans are on it. We know that none of the people we represent present a threat to aviation security,” Choudhury said.
The secret list is maintained by the FBI and the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) and is thought to have as many as 10,000 names. Citizens have no way of knowing if they have been placed on the list and typically find out only when they are attempting to board a flight. The FBI has never provided an explanation as how or why an individual is placed on the No Fly List.
Lawyers representing the victims claim that the list has hurt common U.S. citizens who have no known ties to terrorism.
“We’ve provided the court with evidence explaining how not being able to fly has hurt them. They are separated from their families and it has made it harder for them to make a living. We know that the story of these citizens is compelling. The fact that any American is on the fly list without explanation should trouble everyone,” Choudhury said.
The No Fly List occasionally has received attention when celebrities are detained or prevented from boarding flights. In 2004, Yusuf Islam, the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens, was detained after a transatlantic flight bound for Washington Dulles airport was grounded in Bangor, Maine after authorities discovered that the singer was on board.
«We are getting a little tired of this kind of Kafkaesque treatment of people, where vague allegations are made and actions are taken against individuals and organizations,» said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations shortly after the event.
After being told he was on a “watch list,” Islam was detained and later deported to the United Kingdom, where he is a citizen. The issue is one that has grown in recent years as more U.S. citizens and foreign nationals are placed on the secret list for vague security reasons.
“There may have been some form of a no fly list before September 11. We know that in 2003, the president consolidated terrorist watch lists. What we’ve seen is that when years have gone by, we are having increased numbers of Americans and green card holders put on this list without explanation. This isn’t making us safer,” Choudhury said.