Watchlists

WATCHLISTS….The Washington Post reports on our burgeoning watchlist mania:

One man went into a Glen Burnie, Md., Toyota dealership to buy a car, only to be told that a name check revealed he was on a U.S. Treasury Department watchlist of suspected terrorists and drug dealers. He had to be “checked for tattoos,” he said, to make sure he wasn’t the suspect.

….Yesterday’s court-ordered release of documents to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, offers a window into the kinds of disruptions suffered by those ensnared in the process, as well as the difficulty of clearing their names.

….Thomas R. Burke, lead counsel in the group’s FOIA case, said he suspected the watchlist is causing problems for many more people than revealed by the cases so far. Moreover, he asserted, “There isn’t a program [of redress]. There isn’t an ombudsman. There isn’t a procedure to help consumers clear their names.”

The Glen Burnie auto customer — whose name was redacted by the government to protect his privacy — began his quest for relief with the car dealer, according to the documents. The dealer referred him to the credit-reporting agencies, Experian and Equifax, but he was left in electronic voice-directory limbo, he said. That was only the beginning of “a revolving-door nightmare,” he said.

This is possibly the most maddening aspect of our current watchlist frenzy. I understand the purpose of all these watchlists, and even though I don’t like them much I get the fact that they’re probably here to stay and are quite likely fairly effective. (Though I wouldn’t mind hearing some evidence on that score.)

But why the insane refusal to set up a system that allows innocent people to get off our various and sundry watchlists? You can chalk this up to normal government inefficiency if you want, but it obviously goes way beyond that. It’s plain that the agencies involved don’t want to let people off, whether they’re innocent or not. The mere ability to challenge your inclusion on a watchlist is a threat to them.

This is crazy. Maybe some conservative group needs to adopt this as a takings issue. They could probably figure out a way if they wanted to. They might even get a few liberals to sign up with them.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell has more here on European concerns over the fundamental issues of judicial review and property takings that are at stake with terrorist watchlists. As the president of Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court puts it: “If you are on such a terrorist list, you can basically do nothing about it….You can neither have access to credit, nor buy anything….What is interesting is that the person who comes to be on such a list is neither told in advance, nor told the reasons why they will be on the list. The underlying evidence isn’t provided, and there is no effective legal protection.” Read the whole thing for more.