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A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that the federal government’s terrorism watchlist violates the due process rights of U.S. citizens who are in the database. U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga of Alexandria ruled Wednesday that the government provides no notice to people who were included on the list, no explanation of the criteria or evidence used to determine watchlist status, and no process to get off the list.
As of 2017, about 1.2 million people were on the list of known and suspected terrorists, including about 4,600 U.S. citizens.
The watchlist is maintained by the Terrorism Screening Center, an operation of the FBI. Individuals can be placed on the list even if they have not committed a crime, Trenga said. When deciding whether to accept someone for placement on the list, the screening center can consider, but not base its decision solely on, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation and First Amendment-protected beliefs.
The screening center can also consider financial transactions, travel history, business and international associations, and the study of Arabic.
Being on the watchlist does not automatically exclude people from boarding flights, but it does subject them to additional screening by the Transportation Security Administration. The information is also shared with other government agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which use that information in screening.
Trenga granted summary judgment to 23 plaintiffs, American Muslims who were represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Trenga did not decide on a remedy. Instead he directed the parties to file briefs on the issue.
Trenga previously ruled on behalf of an American who said he had no adequate remedy to challenge his inclusion on the no-fly list, which is a subset of people on the terrorism watchlist who are not allowed to board planes in the United States. The no-fly procedures were revised to give U.S. citizens a chance to be removed from the list.