A secret "No-Fly" list the federal government maintains of terrorist suspects has been used to humiliate and stigmatize innocent citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union charged Tuesday in filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of seven individuals.
Each of the passengers was stopped on multiple occasions at airports by airline and security personnel and extensively questioned, searched and publicly singled out as posing a security threat after being told their names were on the No-Fly list, the suit said. In each incident, they were allowed to board their flights after extensive efforts to prove they were not the same person as the suspected terrorist on the government’s list.
The passengers, all U.S. citizens, are a minister, 74, from Washington state; a U.S. Air Force master sergeant, 36, from Alaska; a student, 22, at Vermont’s Middlebury College; an Illinois attorney, 34; a Philadelphia activist, 51; and two ACLU employees.
Plaintiff John Shaw, a retired Presbyterian pastor from Sammamish said he had been repeatedly questioned, delayed and searched since 2002. "As a law-abiding citizen who is a retired member of the clergy, I was shocked to discover that I have been placed on the no-fly list," Shaw, 74, said.
The Transportation Security Administration provides the list to airline and security personnel to alert them to people who should be stopped before being allowed to board a commercial airplane. The agency plans to use the list, along with other databases of suspected terrorists, as part of a new passenger screening program called Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II, expected to begin later this year.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, seeks injunctive relief on behalf of all innocent passengers with similar experiences. The TSA said it has received more than 250 complaints from travelers.
"The No-Fly list is an important part of aviation security and we’re very confident about its accuracy," TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said. The problem, he said, is the agency’s outdated system to verify passengers’ identities. He said he was not aware that the list had helped capture any suspected terrorists but said it served as a useful deterrent.