The Perils of Government Watchlists

Here's a frightening report from a Denver TV station about the government requiring air marshalls to report at least one person a month for suspicious activity on a plane - reports that could put someone on a terrorist watchlist - regardless of whether they see any such activity.

You could be on a secret government database or watch list for simply taking a picture on an airplane. Some federal air marshals say they're reporting your actions to meet a quota, even though some top officials deny it.

The air marshals, whose identities are being concealed, told 7NEWS that they're required to submit at least one report a month. If they don't, there's no raise, no bonus, no awards and no special assignments.

"Innocent passengers are being entered into an international intelligence database as suspicious persons, acting in a suspicious manner on an aircraft ... and they did nothing wrong," said one federal air marshal.

Look, we all know that we have to have watchlists. Law enforcement has to communicate the identities of people who need to be watched as potential risks. But in the wake of 9/11, our government seems to be making no effort at all to avoid false positives; in fact, they appear to be encouraging them. They are using the pretext of terrorism the same way they used the communist threat during the cold war, as an excuse to go after groups that oppose them politically. Thus, the Pentagon's surveillance and infiltration of peace groups, modeled after the FBI's treatment of legitimate civil rights groups in the 60s. Sadly, the public doesn't seem to care.


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I do find it amazing that no one seems to care - to report on this. I don't think the public is really aware that this goes on - at least to the extent that it actualy does. Very few venues are connecting what gets reported on a local level to a larger national picture. Folks may rail about their localised law enforcment abusing it's power but remain completley unaware that this is systemic.

Another serious problem is the fact that even when people know about crap like this -- they don't care. They are more than willing to give up thier privacy and freedom to be saved from the evil terrorists.

The really crazy part of it is -- like the whole Katrina mess -- no one really knows what is going on. Names are added or removed from lists with no oversight or rationale. It makes it hard to spin a decent conspiracy theory when so much of it appears to be random.

Some time back, I was stopped by Park Police when picking blueberries on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The officer seemed quite exited to be bagging us, until he realized what we were really up to. When we asked what had attracted his attention, the answer was "You are on a list." It would be chilling if it weren't so bizarre.

And yes, I realize that there can be malice to list-making. But skymarshalls filing reports on folks to meet quota isn't it.

What idiot thought up the idea of a quota anyways? Does someone honestly expect there to be an even and consistant distribution of bad guys that need to be reported on a regular basis?

I do find it amazing that no one seems to care - to report on this. I don't think the public is really aware that this goes on - at least to the extent that it actualy does.

Would the public care even if told? I seem to notice that as the population grows, the percentage of people marginalized like this goes down and unless you're directly impacted, it's anecdotal.

I think the numbers work in our favor overall -- the basic population noise seems to make us more indistinguishable unless we do something to stand out.

I suspect that the quota list is a method of measuring vigilance on an individual level. It seems stupid, but I'd rather it was something like this than shooting depressed/retarded people on a plane to demonstrate vigilance. It's not a good choice for gaging effectiveness, but police and security organs are one of the few growth industries in the US with a career path and it's not the sharpest tools that take to that path.

People should be screaming about this even if they don't care about civil liberties. It's not just oppressive, it's also really bad for national security.

I'm really furious that our political and media class are not banging the drum about the fact that putting lots of innocent people on these lists makes it a lot harder to distinguish the people we need to be watching from everyone else - and that means it's harder to watch for, and notice, the real bad guys.