Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Who Watches the Watchlists?

The idea of “watchlists” has proliferated as part of the War on Terror. There are now more than 63 of them:

As part of its regular “risk management” service, which provides screening, tracing, and identity and background checks on potential clients or trading partners, MicroBilt will now offer a “watch list” service that checks these individuals against 63 different lists from 35 sources, including OFAC, the FBI, and Interpol, Bradley says. (“Companies May Be Held Liable for Deals With Terrorists, ID Thieves“, DarkReading)

I say more than 63 because some unknown number are secret. The poor souls who find themselves on these lists have, in essence, no recourse. Convincing 35 or more agencies that their presumption of your guilt is incorrect might, in theory, be possible. In reality, the agency has no reason to do anything but drag its feet: there are no penalties to them for declaring you guilty. In contrast, a failure to put your name on the list risks them not having prevented you from your future thoughtcrime.

But there’s hope. And it’s not in MicroBilt’s stock price (MicroBilt is a subsidiary of First Advantage). Rather, it’s in the courage of a judge, who ruled that any American who has been routinely detained because they are on a watch list knows that they are on a list, and thus the government’s ‘State Secrets’ privilege isn’t applicable:

since the government admits it has stopped the six men and two women more than 35 times, federal Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier of the United States Northern Illinois District Court dismissed that argument. Instead he found that the government “failed to establish that, under all the circumstances of this case, disclosure of that information would create a reasonable danger of jeopardizing national security.” (“ Court: Government Must Reveal Watch-List Status to Constantly Detained Americans,” Wired’s excellent 27B-6 Mk IIa blog)