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On the “terrorist watch list” thing


I really wanted to cheerlead the symbolic gesture Chris Murphy and other Senate Democrats engaged in yesterday. It’s certainly good politics, as I have no doubt the bill they were filibustering on behalf of would be similarly overwhelmingly popular. But I can’t quite do it; I’m with the ACLU on this one. The “terrorist watch list” is a due process nightmare, and it shouldn’t be used to restrict legal rights in its current form. My interest in not seeing people deprived of their legal rights arbitrarily and without due process doesn’t suddenly vanish because the government defines a particular legal right overbroadly on my assessment. It’s also troubling to see people who really should know better, like Sheila Jackson Lee, conflating “terrorist” and “person on terror watch list.”

Incidently, I was apparently on some sort of list–obviously not the no-fly list, as I was never actually denied boarding, but some sort of extra scrutiny list–for several years in the early aughts. I couldn’t check into a flight online or at the kiosk, so I’d stroll up the agent to check in. The typical process of acquiring a boarding pass began with the ticketing agent taking my ID and flight information, clicking away at the terminal for a minute or two. There was a moment where his or her demeanor suddenly changed, and I’d get a nervous “I’m sorry, sir, there seems to be some sort of problem” followed by a huddle of multiple employees, including some sort of supervisor, just out of earshot, whispering anxiously and occasionally glancing suspiciously in my direction. This would go on for several minutes, until someone got on the phone, waited a while to get through to whoever they were calling, who’d eventually, apparently, give them permission to issue me a boarding pass. I spent a non-trivial amount of time and energy trying to figure out what list I was on, let alone how to get off it, with no success whatsoever. (After a few years of this, a gate agent recommended to me I start using my full middle name, rather than just my middle initial, when booking flights. It worked; I was never subjected to this step again.)

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