The "no-fly list" set up by the U.S. government after the 2001 terrorist attacks is unconstitutional if travelers have no way to get off it, a federal judge said.
In a decision Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown, in Portland, Ore., ruled in favor of 13 plaintiffs -- all U.S. citizens of Middle Eastern descent. In Latif v. Holder, Brown dismissed the government's argument that the list is fair because those who cannot fly can use ground transportation or ship.
U.S. citizens have a constitutionally protected right to travel internationally, the judge said. More importantly, she said, the government's failure to give them a meaningful procedure for showing they should not be on the list violates the constitutional right to due process.
The judge said that travelers who are not allowed to board a plane are often not told it is because they are on the list and are not given the reason for it. This means they cannot make an effective case that they present no danger to the public.
Brown said the 13 plaintiffs all filed complaints with the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. She said that the responses did not tell them they were in the terrorist screening database or no-fly list.
"Defendants' failure to provide any notice of the reasons for plaintiffs' placement on the No-Fly List is especially important in light of the low evidentiary standard required to place an individual in the TSDB in the first place," the judge said.
Brown cited the lead plaintiff, Ayman Latif, as an example of the harm that can come from being placed on the list. She said Latif, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, lost his disability benefits because he was unable to return to the United States for an evaluation.
One of the more celebrated people to be placed on the list was Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens. He was on a flight from London to New York when he was taken off the plane in Bangor, Maine, in 2004 and returned to Britain. Two years later, he was allowed into the United States and says he was never given an explanation for why he was listed and de-listed.