The Chicago Tribune has an opinion column by Steven Chapman about the no-fly list run by the federal government. (In 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive No. 6 consolidated administration of the no-fly, selectee and other security watchlists under the jurisdiction of the Terrorist Screening Center.)
Last year, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a report (pdf) reported substantial problems with the terrorist watchlists. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation has improperly kept nearly 24,000 people on a terrorist watch list based on outdated or sometimes irrelevant information, while it missed others with legitimate terror ties who should have been on the list,” said the New York Times. Here are a few stories in the archives about problems with watchlists.
If a job not worth doing is going to be done anyway, better for it to be done well than badly. So the Transportation Security Administration deserves credit for its Secure Flight program, aimed at curbing mistakes on its no-fly list. The American Civil Liberties Union, likewise, warrants praise for suing on behalf of travelers who were wrongly snared.
But there is a better option that would eliminate this problem, as well as others: Get rid of the no-fly list entirely. For that matter, get rid of the requirement that passengers provide government-approved identification just to go from one place to another.
Americans have a constitutionally protected right, recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, to travel freely. They also have the right not to be subject to unreasonable searches and other government intrusions. But in the blind pursuit of safety, we have swallowed restrictions on travel and infringements on privacy we would never tolerate elsewhere. […]
The TSA doesn’t say what it takes to get on the list, and it doesn’t make it crystal clear how to get off. If it acts in an arbitrary or malicious way, the victim has little recourse except appealing to the agency’s better angels.
But the whole idea behind the list doesn’t make much sense. Supposedly, we have hundreds or even thousands of U.S. residents who are too dangerous to be allowed on a plane — but safe enough to be trusted in all sorts of other places (subway trains, sports venues, shopping malls, skyscrapers) where someone carrying a bomb or a gun could wreak havoc.
If those on the list are truly dangerous, the government should arrest and prosecute them, with their guilt decided by the courts. If they are not dangerous enough to arrest, they should have the same freedom to travel as everyone else.
We don’t prohibit all ex-convicts from flying. How can we justify barring people convicted of nothing?