ATLANTA (Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday filed suit over the U.S. government’s “no-fly list,” saying it violates individuals’ rights.
The suit, filed on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens or lawful residents, says thousands have been barred from commercial air travel with no chance to address the basis for their apparent inclusion on the list.
An ACLU lawyer on Wednesday said the complaint was the first to be filed on behalf of U.S. legal residents seeking systemic reform and raising the issue of constitutionality because of the lack of a procedure for people to challenge their inclusion on the list.
At least one previous suit has been filed by a noncitizen in a bid to get herself removed from the list.
People on the no-fly list, which came into existence after the September 11, 2001, attacks, are banned from flying inside the United States as well as to and from the country.
“This the first systemic suit ... saying look, it’s unconstitutional that the government doesn’t give you a way to get off,” said Nusrat Choudhury, an attorney with the National Security Project of the ACLU.
She said the 10 plaintiffs had been placed on the list sometime this year and do not know why they are on it. She also said government reports indicate the list has swelled since last year’s attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Plaintiffs “don’t have a way to tell the government that they shouldn’t be on this list and to find out the reasons why and stand up for themselves,” Choudhury said.
Defendants named in the suit are U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Chief Robert Mueller and Timothy Healy, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center, an FBI entity that has a database of information about people known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity.
“The Constitution does not permit such a fundamental deprivation of rights to be carried out under a veil of secrecy and in the absence of even rudimentary process,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit, filed in Oregon, seeks the removal of plaintiffs’ names from any no-fly list or a hearing at which they can offer evidence against their inclusion on the list.
Paul Bresson, unit chief in the FBI national press office, said the agency does not comment on litigation or on whether an individual may be on a watch list.
The case is: Latif, et al. v. Holder et al. being heard in the U.S. District Court, District of Oregon, Portland Division; CV 10-750 BR.
Reporting by Karen Jacobs, additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Xavier Briand