EPIC FOIA - FBI Watchlist
- Federal Court Rules FBI Watchlist Unconstitutional: A federal court has ruled that the "suspected terrorist" watchlist used by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security is unconstitutional. Judge Anthony J. Trenga held that the watchlist "imposes a substantial burden on Plaintiffs' exercise of their rights to international travel and domestic air travel" and "fails to provide constitutionally sufficient procedural due process." In 2011, documents obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the FBI's standards for adding and removing names from the watchlist and showed that individuals may remain on the FBI watch list even if charges are dropped or a case is dismissed. In 2018, EPIC obtained key records about Secure Flight, a Transportation Security Administration program that compares airline passenger records with various government watchlists. EPIC has long campaigned against the use of secret watchlists. (Sep. 5, 2019)
- Nation Mourns Death of Nelson Mandela, World Leader who Appeared on US "Terrorist" Watch List: Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela has died. He is revered in the US and around the world for helping to bring about the end of apartheid, for leading his country into a new era, and for championing the cause of human rights. Until 2008, Mr. Mandela, a member of the African National Congress and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, also appeared on the US "Terrorist" Watch List. Documents obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act in 2012 revealed a broad legal standard that allows the US to place someone on the Terrorist Watch List virtually forever. Mr. Mandela's name was taken off the list in 2008 by a formal act of Congress. Approximately 700,000 people are currently tracked by the US Terrorist Screening Center. For more information, see EPIC: FBI Watchlist (National Terrorist Screening Center) and EPIC: Mandela and Privacy. (Dec. 6, 2013) More top news »
The Terrorist Screening Center was created in 2003 pursuant to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 and was tasked with creating a unified terrorist screening watchlist. The primary database administered by the Terrorist Screening Center, the Terrorist Screening Database, was created to fulfill this mandate. The No Fly List and Selectee List are subsets of the Terrorist Screening Center Database, and entries on these lists must meet specific requirements above the baseline set by the Terrorist Screening Center Database.
Until recently, there was very little public information about the criteria for adding or removing names from the Terrorist Screening Center Database or the No Fly List. On July 23, 2014, The Intercept published the March 2013 set of internal rules used to compile terrorism screening watch lists over the protestations of Attorney General Holder. Several U.S. District courts have found the no-fly-list procedures to be unconstitutional. In response to recent rulings, the government has revised its procedures for individuals to know and challenge placement on the No Fly List.
In the past ten years, reports of the size of the No Fly List and Selectee List have varied from 44,000 and 75,000, respectively, in 2006, to 3,400 individuals on the No Fly List in 2009. As of August 2013, the No Fly List included around 47,000 individuals, approximately 800 of whom were Americans. In April 2015, the TSA launched a website allowing the public to search for names on the No Fly List. There is still a lack of accurate information in the public domain on the size of the Selectee List.
EPIC's Freedom of Information Act Request
On June 7, 2011, EPIC submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for agency records related to the Terrorist Screening Center Database and No Fly List. EPIC requested the following agency records:
- All documents detailing the criteria used to place an individual who is already in the TSDB on the No Fly List
- All documents detailing the criteria used to place an individual who is already in the TSDB on the Selectee List
- All documents detailing the criteria used to remove an individual from the No Fly List.
- All documents detailing the criteria used to remove an individual from the Selectee List.
- All documents relating to the current number of individuals of the No Fly List.
- All documents relating to the current number of individuals of the Selectee List.
- All documents relating to the current number of United States citizens on the No Fly List.
- All documents relating to the current number of United States citizens on the Selectee List.
- All documents detailing whether individuals on the No Fly List have been notified of their presence on the list.
- All documents detailing whether individuals on the Selectee List have been notified of their presence on the list.
On September 28, 2011, EPIC released documents obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a result of EPIC's FOIA request. The disclosed documents include previously secret FBI Watch List Guidelines from 2010, previously secret FBI Watch List Guidelines from 2009, a Report to Congress on the Terrorist Screening Center, and previously classified answers to questions by members of Congress.
- EPIC Freedom of Information Act Request (June 7, 2011)
- Documents Obtained from the FBI:
- FBI: Watch List Guidelines from 2010
- FBI: Watch List Guidelines from 2009
- FBI: Terrorist Watch List Screening Procedures
- FBI: Report to Congress on the Terrorist Screening Center
- FBI: Answers to questions by members of Congress
- Court Opinions:
- Latif v. Holder: Opinion and Order, (Aug. 28, 2013)
- Latif v. Holder: Opinion and Order, (June 24, 2014)
- Ibrahim v. DHS: Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Relief, (Feb. 6, 2014)
- ACLU Report, U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences, (Mar. 2014)
- National Counterterrorism Center: March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance
- GAO Report, Terrorist Watchlist: Routinely Assessing Impacts of Agency Actions since the December 25, 2009, Attempted Attack Could Help Inform Future Efforts, (May 2012)
- Judge: No-Fly List Procedures Were — and Still Might Be — Unconstitutional, Matt Zapotosky, Washington Post, July 16, 2015
- Judge Rejects Government Argument in No Fly List Laws, Matthew Barakat, Washington Post, July 16, 2015
- Report: U.S. Marked Al Jazeera Journalist a Terrorist, Hadas Gold, Politico, May 8, 2015
- U.S. Government Designated Prominent Al Jazeera Journalist as "Member of Al Qaeda", Cora Currier, Glenn Greenwald, & Andrew Fishman, The Intercept May 8, 2015
- U.S. to Tell Americans Why They're on No-Fly List, Marnie Hunter, CNN, Apr. 15, 2015
- U.S. to Inform Americans Whether They Are on ‘No-Fly’ List, and Possibly Why, Adam Goldman, Washington Post, Apr. 14, 2015
- FBI Put Anonymous 'hacktivist' Jeremy Hammond on Terrorism Watchlist, Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, Feb. 2, 2015
- Extremist Threat Pits Law Enforcement Against Civil Rights, New York Times, Jan. 12, 2015
- US Government Can Brand You a Terrorist Based on a Facebook Post. We Can't Let Them Make Up the Rules, Arjun Sethi, The Guardian, Aug. 30, 2014
- Five American Muslims Sue FBI, Attorney General Over Travel Watch List, Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, Aug 14, 2014
- Watch Commander: Barak Obama’s Terrorist-Tracking System, by the Numbers, Jeremy Scahill & Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept, Aug. 5, 2014
- How the US's Terrorism Watchlists Work - and How You Could End Up on One, Spencer Ackerman, Guardian, July 24, 2014
- Over Government Objections, Rules on No-Fly List Are Made Public, Charlie Savage, New York Times, July 23, 2014
- The Secret Government Rule Book for Labeling You a Terrorist, Jeremy Scahill & Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept, July 23, 2014
- No-fly List Used by FBI to Coerce Muslims into Informing, Lawsuit Claims , Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian, Apr. 22, 2014
- Terror Watch Lists Run Amok, The Editorial Board, New York Times, Apr. 18, 2014
- After Seven Years, Exactly One Person Gets Off the Gov’t No-Fly List, Joe Silver, Ars Technica, Mar. 27, 2014
- How Obama Officials Cried ‘Terrorism’ to Cover Up a Paperwork Error, David Kravets, Wired, Feb. 11, 2014
- FBI Checks Wrong Box, Places Student on No-Fly List, David Kravets, Wired, Feb. 6, 2014
- Feds Lose Round in No-Fly List Lawsuit, Josh Gerstein, Politico, Jan. 22, 2014
- A Rebuff to Overbroad Watch Lists, The Editorial Board, New York Times, Jan. 21, 2014
- Malaysian Professor Wins Legal Challenge Seeking Removal of Name From US 'No-Fly' List, Fox News, Jan. 14, 2014
- 2 U.S. Agencies Added Boston Bomb Suspect to Watch Lists, Eric Schmitt & Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, Apr. 24, 2013
- Report:Acquitted Stay on Watch List, Tim Mak, Politico, Sept. 28, 2011
- FBI Memo Gives Info on Terror Watch List, UPI News, Sept. 28, 2011
- Report: Cleared People Can Stay on Terror Lists, CBS News, Sept. 28, 2011
- FBI List Can Include Those Cleared of Charges, Report Says, Fox News, Sept. 28, 2011
- Report: Even Those Cleared of Crimes Can Stay on FBI's Watch List , Charlie Savage, New York Times, Sept. 27, 2011
Share this page:
Subscribe to the EPIC Alert
The EPIC Alert is a biweekly newsletter highlighting emerging privacy issues.