Created in 2003, the Terrorist Screening Database was intended to help the US track terrorists and prevent any further terror attacks in the US.
Despite the best intentions of the list, however, the system has proven to be confusing and flawed.
On numerous occassions, the watch list has failed to prevent attacks — Omar Mateen, who carried out a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, was previously on the list in 2013 but was removed after 10 months — or have failed at tracking potential terrorists, such as the failed 2009 underwear bomber.
On the other hand, it is incredibly easy for innocent suspects to be placed on the watch list with no warning. Whereas some obvious indicators will land someone on the list, such as carrying out a violent attack at an airport, other innocuous actions such as being an acquaintance of a suspect on the watch list can also lead to being watch-listed.
And being removed from the list can be as opaque as being placed on it. Most suspects on the list never know they’re technically under investigation. As inclusion the list is not typically disclosed, pursuing legal challenges to be removed from the list is notoriously difficult — even though the FBI is meant to remove people from the list in a timely manner if its investigations are concluded without finding guilt.
“Instead of a watch list limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told The Intercept. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.”
We have identified some of the ways an individual can end up on the watch list below:
Once you end up on the watch list, here’s what you can and cannot do:
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