Gov’t Shares Terror Watchlist With Private Sector: Should They?

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Security at a hospital in Dallas, Texas (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Security at a hospital in Dallas, Texas (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

After years of denial, the federal government acknowledged it shares its terror watchlist with private entities.

The admission came in the face of a class-action lawsuit brought by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of Muslims challenging the constitutionality of the government’s use of the list.

At present, the list is shared with more than 1,400 entities, all of which are connected to the criminal justice system, for example, police forces at private universities, hospital security staff and private correctional facilities.

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CAIR claims the list – which contains hundreds of thousands of names — is mismanaged and often wrongly includes those innocent of terror affiliations causing difficulties in travel, financial transactions and interactions with law enforcement.

Hundreds of thousands of names are added to the list every year with names regularly subtracted as well. The “no-fly” list is a subsection of the list, officially called the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB).

While it is shocking that the government lied about its sharing of the list for so many years, its recent admission raises many questions that have  yet to be answered – specifically, what restrictions are placed on a person who is on the list and how the private sector uses it.

Even CAIR lawyers have no answers to these questions, as they wrote in a brief:

“Are universities taking TSDB status into account in making admission or disciplinary decisions? Are Inova Alexandria Hospital’s building security personnel screening visitors against the TSDB and denying entry to listees? Is Motorola screening its software engineers who work on cellular infrastructure equipment against the TSDB and firing listees? Plaintiffs have no idea.”

Ironically, over the years, the government received the brunt of criticism from the other side for failing to share the list with private sector agencies that need to be appraised of suspected terrorists.

In truth, we all suffer from our modern-day problem of terrorism – from those who are the direct victims of terrorists to the general population that is forced to undergo annoying, time-consuming and/or more invasive security checks every time we want to engage in air travel.

There is also another truth: The government has quite a bad record when it comes to making mistakes in intelligence – from the worse kind of failures (which have resulted in the multiple deaths of American agents who have been compromised on numerous continents over the years) to the kind that this lawsuit most likely points to.

Yet, given the very real threat of terrorism, there is always a question a society must answer as to where to strike the balance between keeping the country’s citizens safe and their right to privacy and personal liberty.

As more details are revealed in this case, it will be interesting to see where the U.S. justice system says that line should be drawn.


Based on this story, where do you think that line should be? Please take a moment and answer our poll below:

Should the private sector entities involved in criminal justice have access to the government's terror watchlist database?



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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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