FBI’s terrorist watchlist is unconstitutional, judge rules

FBI’s terrorist watchlist is unconstitutional, judge rules
2 min read
05 September, 2019
A federal judge calls into question the legality of the Terrorist Screening Database, a watch list used by the FBI to screen people for entering the US
Judge rules in favour of 23 Muslim Americans on the Terrorist Screening Database. [Getty]

Any government database that compiles a list of "known or suspect terrorists" is in violation of the rights of American citizens on the watchlist, a federal judge has found. The ruling calls into question the constitutionality of the Terrorist Screening Database watchlist, an important tool used by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to identify potential terrorist threats to the United States.

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US District Judge Anthony J. Trenga ruled in favour of 23 Muslim Americans who had sued the state for being included in the Terrorist Screening Database.

The ruling found that the watchlist deprives Americans of the right to due process, a right that is guaranteed in the Constitution.

"There is no evidence, or contention, that any of these plaintiffs satisfy the definition of a ‘known terrorist,'" wrote Trenga in the 32-page-long ruling.

"An individual's placement into the [watch list] does not require any evidence that the person engaged in criminal activity, committed a crime, or will commit a crime in the future," the judge wrote, "and individuals who have been acquitted of a terrorism-related crime may still be listed."

Being on the watchlist can restrict people from travelling, subject them to close examination at airports by the police, and deny them government benefits and contracts.

Judge Trenga wrote that the "right of free movement is a long recognised, fundamental liberty".

He went on to state that "individuals are not told , even after filing, whether or not they were or remain on the TSDB watchlist and are also not told the factual basis for their inclusion".

As of 2017, around 1.2 million people were on the Terrorist Screening Database, of which 4,600 were American citizens.