Reversing Policy, Feds Will Now Confirm or Deny If Certain Individuals Are on 50,000-Person No-Fly List

The US government is loosening its lips about a secret database that prevents tens of thousands of people from boarding airplanes to and from the United States.

Under pressure from the courts, the government this week announced new processes that will allow individuals who’ve been placed on the so-called “No Fly List” to inquire about their status.

“Under the newly revised procedures, a US person who purchases a ticket, is denied boarding at the airport, subsequently applies for redress through DHS TRIP [the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program] about the denial of boarding, and is on the No Fly List after a redress review, will now receive a letter providing his or her status on the No Fly List,” the government said in a court filing on Monday, as Federation of American Scientists’ journalist Steven Aftergood pointed out.

Prior inquires made by people who suspected they were on the list were met with secrecy, as the government refused to deny or confirm inclusion. The issue has become more pressing since President Obama took office, with the database ballooning to 50,000 entries.

The government also claimed this week it will provide people seeking further information about their inclusion on the list with a “more detailed response,” that includes “specific criterion under which the individual has been placed on the No Fly List,” as well as “an unclassified summary of information supporting the individual’s No Fly List status.”

The change in posture comes in response to a series of lawsuits from people who claim they’ve been wrongly included on the list. Specifically, the government is responding to a lawsuit brought by a 19-year-old US citizen who was detained in Kuwait in December 2010 and prevented from returning to the United States. Gulet Mohamed claimed he was subject to torture in a Kuwaiti detention facility, and efforts to return home to the states were thwarted since his name appeared on the No Fly List. He was not facing any charges in Kuwait or the US before his arrest.

After the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed suit on his behalf in January 2011, the government arranged for Mohamed to fly home weeks later. In the years since, courts have ruled that the government’s current wall of silence and redress policy violate the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution

Of the 47,000 people estimated to be on the list, roughly 800 are Americans.

report published earlier this month by the Congressional Research Service showed the difficulty innocent people face when their name appears on the database.

“In some cases, it has been reported that persons have been prevented from boarding an aircraft because they were mistakenly believed to be on the No Fly list, sometimes on account of having a name similar to another person who was actually on the list,” the report stated.

Following the failed underwear bomber attack on Christmas Day 2009, the government drastically expanded the list, CRS noted, and “a number of individuals were placed on the No Fly list who may not have met the normal standards for inclusion.”

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